Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot, one of the great plays of world theater, had its American premiere at the newly opened Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1956. The citizens of South Florida hated it.
Dave Hanson’s artful parody, Waiting for Waiting for Godot, won acclaim at the 2013 New York Interrnational Fringe Festival. The play is now getting its South Florida premiere at The Vanguard, courtesy of Fort Lauderdale’s Thinking Cap Theatre. Here’s betting that anyone who knows Godot, loves comedy and/or has worked in theater will adore it.
In Beckett’s original, the bedraggled Vladimir and Estragon pass the time while waiting for the mysterious Godot, who never arrives. In Waiting for Waiting for Godot, two understudies — Val (Mark Duncan) and Ester (Scott Douglas Wilson) — wait in their dressing room as Beckett’s play is being performed.
Will this be the day something happens and one or both will get the call to go on? Will the director show up, recognize their obvious talent and send them onstage? Unlikely, but as with Vladimir and Estragon, hope springs eternal. Or duty. Or stasis. Or something.
Hanson’s play is embedded with references to Beckett’s, of course. In the opening moments, Ester struggles to button a too-small vest, while Val tries in vain to rip open a sugar packet to sweeten his coffee. Their conclusion? “Nothing to be done,” echoing Beckett’s Estragon, who can’t get the boots off his swollen feet.
But Hanson is also poking fun at the rituals and practitioners of theater itself. That’s the source of the clever comedy in Waiting for Waiting for Godot, and under the gracefully astute direction of Margaret M. Ledford, Duncan, Wilson and cast mate Vanessa Elise use their vividly rendered characters to affectionately deconstruct a life in the theater.
Vladimir and Estragon have sometimes been likened to the great movie team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and the comparison is just as apt for Hanson’s Val and Ester.
Ester sees himself as an actor with a capital “A,” a great talent waiting to be discovered and a far more serious artist than Val, whose modest abilities he dismisses. Unless, of course, Val would like to avail himself of Ester’s private coaching on the techniques of the “Miserly” (read that “Meisner”) method, or perhaps the vulgarity-laced “Mamet” (he pronounces it “Mah-may”) school?
Val, more quiet and reserved, nonetheless triumphs a la Laurel when a trip to the lobby bathroom during intermission (also a nod to the Beckett original) leads to a turn of events that Ester sees as maddening good fortune.
Elise makes several short but impactful appearances as Laura, the production’s assistant stage manager. It’s a job she views as far more important and difficult than the work of actors who (as she points out with smiling disdain) wear costumes someone else made, say lines someone else wrote and stand where someone else tells them to stand. She then turns the calling of lighting cues into memorable high drama.
Duncan’s Val is quiet yet sly, a foil who suffers a loss but emerges the stronger man. Wilson goes all in with Ester, the fool who doesn’t see his folly. Mimicking Marlon Brando, he achieves a vocal and physical tour de force as he references A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, On the Waterfront, Scarface, The Wizard of Oz and King Kong in mere minutes.
With its cluttered “backstage” set by Alyiece Moretto, lighting by Eric Nelson, sound by David Hart and Godot-appropriate costumes by Nicole Stodard, Waiting for Waiting for Godot is a kind of laugh-filled love letter to those who wait in theater. It doesn’t aim to be profound like its model. But in its more modest way, it’s similarly full of truth.
If you go
What: ‘Waiting for Waiting for Godot’ by Dave Hanson.
Where: Thinking Cap Theatre production at the Vanguard, 1501 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday (additional show 8 p.m. Sept. 9), through Sept. 13.
Cost: $35 ($20 students).
Information: 813-220-1546 or thinkingcaptheatre.com.