WAITING FOR GODOT (Quintessence): Really absurd

“The absurd is not in man… nor in the world, but in their presence together.”—Albert Camus

Frank X and Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. in WAITING FOR GODOT from Quintessence. Photo by Shawn May.

Life is absurd because it is lived by people. Thankfully, we can laugh at this absurdity.

Quintessence Theatre Group’s production of Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT succeeds because it remembers these truisms, striking a balance between humor and pathos, between realism and ridiculousness.

Beckett took a simple premise—two aged men gathered by a tree, waiting for a promised meeting—as a springboard for literature’s most successful investigation of the meaningless absurdity of life and human interaction. Fulfilling the play’s promise, director Ken Marini brings together skilled veteran duo Frank X and Johnnie Hobbs Jr. for the clown-heros Gogo (X) and Didi (Hobbs).

Too many productions overplay the show’s comedy at the expense of human empathy or else underplay the humor in a strain for sympathy. X and Hobbs do neither. Showcasing their extensive dramatic experience, the pair bring a natural gravitas to their portrayal of the downtrodden hobos and a tangible love to the Gogo and Didi’s 60-year relationship.

Simply eating a carrot, X’s skilled physical control elicits sympathy and provokes laughter. If the production misses some opportunities for clowning interaction in the first act, these seem intentional sacrifices to establish the pair as real characters and friends.

Likewise, Gregory Isaac’s Pozzo comes across not as a fearsome tyrant, but a demonstration of the more-real evil of rich privilege. In the famous oratory by the servant Lucky, J. Hernandez’s measured, unrushed delivery brings a human dignity to the apparently nonsensical monologue.

The production is characteristic of a new maturity from Mount Airy’s Quintessence Theatre. This season has seen a searing (if unvaried) staging of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and a fresh two-piano version of My Fair Lady. WAITING FOR GODOT continues this artistically successful run.

Mark Twain said “a classic is a book everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read” and it’s easy to feel that way about classic drama too. You want to have seen WAITING FOR GODOT, and this is the production you’ve been waiting to see.

[The Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue] January 31-February 18, 2018; quintessencetheatre.org.

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