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A subtle, somber 'Godot'

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FRIDAY, MAY 22, 1992

A subtle, somber 'Godot'


Malcolm Tulip, David Bernstein in 'Waiting for Godot.'

Discussing the absent title character in “Waiting for Godot,” Samuel Beckett once insisted, “If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot.”

With all due respect to the playwright’s denials, if Godot isn’t God, then up is down and the sun rises in the west. Surely the final 10 minutes of “Godot” - beautifully and hauntingly interpreted Thursday night by director David Hunsberger and a regrouped Performance Network cast - should be enough to convince us ol' Sam knew perfectly well what he was about.

Of course, back in the uptight 1950s it wouldn’t have been popular to admit “Godot” is a play about life as “a perpetual postponement” (as one critic put it); that two millennia of Messiah-worship have been wasted in service of a cosmic practical joke; that in the nouveau atomic age “Godot” was penned, it was easy to be both pessimistic about humankind’s future and cynical about its accumulated past.

In contrast to Performance Network’s production of 8-1/2 years ago, last night’s revival provoked a minimum of audience laughter. This seems intentional and proper, given a play whose very first line is a bone-weary “Nothing to be done,” followed by observations the likes of “We could hang ourselves,” and “Your only hope left is to disappear."

As bowler-hatted, baggy-pants tramps Vladimir and Estragon (also known as Didi and Gogo) dither on a desolate plain awaiting the arrival of the mysterious Godot, it’s easy to imagine a disinterested and perhaps malevolent deity watching, perhaps even contemptuously directing every move they make.

Hunsberger’s lead combo of David Bernstein and Malcolm Tulip (who wasn’t in the ’83 cast) perform in such puppet-on-a-string harmony it’s easy to imagine them as Eternity’s dupes. Didi and Gogo meet each night by a puny, dead tree to await a superior who never comes. They have no notion how long this ritual of nullification has been going on - perhaps years, perhaps centuries. (Gogo: “If we dropped him?” Didi: “He’d punish us").

For “Godot’s” cosmic stasis, in which, as Gogo laments, “nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes,” there’s a plethora of activity. There’s shoe-sniffing, urination, breaking wind, a complex hat-passing routine, insults, pratfalls and droll entreaties.

Though vaudevillian in form, these “routines” often seem more desperate than funny. As Didi observes: “We’re bored to death, there’s no denying it.” Even the bizarre arrival of Pozzo and his slave, Lucky (Larry Rusinsky and Rick Sperling, reprising their ’83 roles), seems little more than a mysterious diversion from nothingness.

His great clown face often directed skyward, as if in entreaty, Bernstein’s Didi is as generous of spirit as he is befuddled of mind. Tulip is a spiky, fussy Gogo - a kind of Felix Unger at the end of the world.

Lany Rusinsky’s tyrannical Pozzo bites out his words while a mute Sperling - ghoulish in a white wig and face that makes him look 200 years old - is a poignant zombie-slave. He’s as affecting in his exhausted physicality as he is when Lucky breaks his silence with his famed end-of-the-world philosophical diatribe.

Hunsberger adds delicate touches to this sturdy, melancholy production. Act II finds the dead tree bedecked not with the usual leaves but a trio of peace-symbol doves. A light flashes unobtrusively on and off while a giant moon abruptly appears near the end of both acts. A child messenger from Godot (Jesse Miller) is both frightened and frightening in his unease at approaching strangers and in his dead-end lack of information. Nothing to be done, indeed.

"Waiting for Godot" will continue Thursday-Sunday and May 25-30 at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St., through May 31. For information call 663-0681.