Director sets out to demystify ‘Waiting for Godot’ for Pict audiences

By Alice T. Carter

Martin Giles, James FitzGerald, Ken Bolden and Alan Stanford in PICT Classic Theatre's Waiting for Godot

Martin Giles, James FitzGerald, Ken Bolden and Alan Stanford in PICT Classic Theatre’s Waiting for Godot – Photo by Justin Merriman

Published: Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The barrier to enjoying “Waiting for Godot” rests with the expectation audiences bring to the performance, says Aoife Spillane-Hinks, who is directing Samuel Beckett’s classic for Pict Classic Theatre.

In the 60-plus years since “Godot” was first performed, the play about two tramps waiting near a barren tree for someone who never shows up has been almost completely obscured by the labels attached to it. Some are descriptive but intimidating — avant garde and absurdist, to name but two.

Its reputation is proclaimed with ponderous gravity. In 1999, a British Royal National Theatre poll of 800 playwrights, actors, directors and journalists named it the most significant English-language play of the 20th century.

Beckett and his play are credited with influencing 20th-century playwrights such as Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet and with revolutionizing contemporary drama.

“We think we are going in for a philosophy lecture when we are actually going in for a vaudeville show with really good writing,” Spillane-Hinks says. “When you see it, you see these people doing pratfalls, fart jokes in front of you, not some kind of ponderous treatise of life.”

Spillane-Hinks first saw “Waiting for Godot” when she was 3.

“I loved it. My mother says I laughed the whole time. If that’s not the essence of the play, I don’t know what is,” she says.

That’s not to say that Beckett’s drama doesn’t offer much to examine and interpret. The setting is sparse and bleak — an isolated crossroads with a leafless tree and a rock. Irish theater critic Vivien Mercier described its actions as “a play in which nothing happens twice.”

Much time has been consumed while academics, theater critics and post-show discussion groups have pondered questions it raises — big ones such as “What does it mean?” or “Is Godot God?” and smaller ones such as “Why do they keep waiting?” and “Couldn’t they have chosen a more comfortable meeting place?”

“It’s interesting how the play is very concrete and yet, within all this, you have this play about everybody and what are they waiting for,” Spillane-Hinks says. “For me, its core is about companionship — two guys (Vladimir and Estragon), who are kind of shiftless, making everyone laugh, bickering and finding ways to fill time.”

The fundamental quality of the production is the affection that Vladimir and Estragon have for each other, she says. “These are not two random molecules brought together by circumstance, but bound together. … There are things that keep them together. Even though there may be dark moments, there’s continuity in that relationship.”

But ultimately, it’s a play that attendees will interpret differently depending on what’s going on in their lives, she says.

“It’s a beautifully crafted play, and the writing is a delight. The characters are richly depicted, and the spectrum is enjoyable, rich,” she says. “You can go see it loads of times, because it isn’t about just one thing. Every production, every viewing by an audience becomes slightly different because of the slightly different circumstances of time. … It’s not this one yarn, but a completely human revelation.”

To balance the play’s abundant humor and its deeper insights, Spillane-Hinks has cast the four principal roles with actors who will be familiar to Pict Classic Theatre audiences.

Martin Giles and James FitzGerald will play Estragon and Vladimir, the hapless pair who await Godot. Giles has acted and directed for the company for more than 13 years. For FitzGerald, who just finished performing in Pict’s season-opener “Blithe Spirit,” “Godot” will be his 13th role with the company.

Alan Stanford, Pict’s artistic and executive director, will assume the role of Pozzo, which he has played in the Gate Theatre Dublin’s touring production for more than 20 years.

Ken Bolden, who plays Lucky, has appeared in multiple productions with Pict, most recently in December’s “Sherlock Holmes and The Crucifer of Blood.”

“These are people who bring expertise (to rehearsal) but are so open and willing to fail or make a mistake,” Spillane-Hinks says. “The rehearsal room is a really joyful place. We are constantly joking about (the play’s) broad humor and bringing in anything that is possible to try once.”

Alternating in the role of Boy are Elliot Pullen and Shay Freund, both of whom gave prize-winning performances at this year’s Shakespeare Monologue & Scene Contest at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

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