Waiting for oomph, feeling sorry for Beckett's lovely lines

Posted: November 13, 2009

Not even the sudden, magical, unscripted appearance of Godot himself - or maybe the Messiah, his possible alter ago - could save the lame production of Waiting for Godot that Amaryllis Theatre Company opened at the Adrienne Wednesday.

I'm sure the Messiah would give it his best; it's what he does. The rest of us will have to settle for a Godot more like bad cooking than the heavenly theatrical hash Samuel Beckett created, and which debuted in 1953. In the mostly perfunctory Amaryllis version, codirected by Tom Reing and Amaryllis' producing artistic director Mimi Kenney Smith, you get all the ingredients and none of the taste.

It ratchets up a few notches in Act 2, but by then so much of Beckett's masterpiece has been abandoned in the delivery, there's no victory in the late-scene recovery.

Much of the beauty in Godot's examination of life's little cracks and deep fissures comes from the way Beckett uses two homeless men in a dreary landscape to both comic and poignant effect. Here, you'll find little of either. The opening-night show made me sad, not for the characters - after all, their strategy for living is ennui - but for Beckett's many lines that tumbled into the audience, where they crashed virtually unnoticed.

"We wait 'til we can get up, then we go on," arguably the main point of Godot, is just one throwaway, stuffed blandly into the production like cheap fill in a pillow. We should be getting real feeling from all this existential brooding - that's what even passable Godots provide, mixing hope and hopelessness, childlike game-playing and stark adult frankness.

Amaryllis mostly gets the stark part, not the full spirit of the play. Buck Schirner is the most successful, as Gogo, one of the two tramps, because he acts so effectively with his eyes, which accurately reflect the play: one second excited, the next disappointed, then scanning for the oncoming high or low.

Michael Toner interprets the other wanderer, Didi, more as an annoyed man than a character with the rich, pathetically comic sense Beckett gave him and directors generally encourage.

The character who crosses their paths is Pozzo, blustery with a menacing frendliness - none of it discernible in Lynn Manning's pedestrian performance. Amaryllis is committed to accessibility in the audience and to frequently casting actors with disabilities, and Manning has a visual impairment. So does his character in Act 2. Manning's disability does not make his portrayal more credible; it remains flat, aloof, even absent.

The too-young David Stanger is Pozzo's slave. He gives his extended monologue a nice turn, but he's not haggard, just stagy in his movements. (And all the action in Act 2, when people fall over one another, is clunky.)

The boy who comes out to announce Godot's lack of intentions is adorable Noel Smith, a Lansdowne Friends School third grader who should have been placed stage front so we could all actually hear him over the ruthless, incessant air blower in the Adrienne's bottom-floor performance space.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

Waiting for Godot

Presented by Amaryllis Theatre Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., through Nov. 22. Tickets: $10. Information: 215-564-2431 or www.amaryllistheatre.org.

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