Castastrophic Theatre captures the simple brilliance of ‘Godot’

"How time flies when one has fun!"

Is there a more devastatingly ironic line, relative to context, than this gem fromSamuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"?

It typifies the streak of impudent gallows humor balancing the bleak plight of Beckett's helpless tramp protagonists, Vladimir and Estragon, as they wait in a desolate place for an enigmatic personage destined never to arrive.

In the Castastrophic Theatre's expert and deeply committed realization of Beckett's masterpiece, director Jason Nodler keeps the work's sardonic wit and tragic awareness in perfect balance.

That sense of balance is one of the play's guiding principles, as confirmed by the symmetry of its construction. Besides the two tramps, Beckett presents another symbiotically intertwined pair, malevolent Pozzo and subservient Lucky, who pay an extended visit once in each act. The one other character, the Boy, who appears briefly near the close of each act, insists in each case that he is not the same boy – so that makes another pair. Then there are the two acts, each depicting essentially the same action: Vladimir and Estragon whiling the time with various ruses and rituals, quarreling and reuniting, and finally receiving the deflating news that Godot "will not come tonight" but "he will come tomorrow."

Simplicity is another hallmark of the play and another key to this production's effectiveness. It's as if Beckett pared away, seared away, everything but the bare bones, the essentials not only of the tramps' plight but of all human existence. Here for a brief time, not knowing how or why, what we're waiting for or where we may be going (if anywhere) in the "after" that will fall as surely as night falls in each of the two acts.

Yet Beckett invests that dire situation with so much that is remarkable, from the play's melancholy poetry musing on time and loss and memory, to the rowdy foolery of its vaudeville routines. The real marvel of "Waiting for Godot" is that a play so profound also is so completely lacking in pretentiousness.

Of course, "Waiting for Godot" has been recognized as one of the essentials of 20th century literature, virtually from its 1953 premiere in Paris. But the more one gets to know this work, the more perfect it seems – not just as a play, but as a representation of the universal human predicament.

Catastrophic's thoughtful yet scrappy rendition does just that: helps us know the play better, understand it more intimately. Nodler and his strong cast convey the humanity of Beckett's characters without slighting the toughness of the play's perspective on life's futility. Nodler's spare treatment and skilled negotiation of the shifting moods drives home the beauty of its spoken arias, as well as the bite of its perception.

Greg Dean imbues Vladimir with philosophical resignation: pained yet resilient, with worried expression and wary stance. Though impatient and sarcastic at times, he's clearly caring as regards to his longtime comrade. Charlie Scott makes Estragon the more explosive and irascibly unpredictable – growling and grimacing. He's the more peevish of the two, yet in crisis, the most helpless. Together, whether needling or needing each other, they convey the battle-scarred yet tenacious affection that binds these two souls.

Kyle Sturdivant is a show in himself with spectacularly riotous performance as the flagrantly egomaniacal Pozzo. He's giddy, sinister and a bit (OK, a lot!) mad. He snaps, snarls, barks orders at poor Lucky, then turns suddenly jovial; terrified; or ornately, preposterously generous. Troy Schulze is a study in abject misery as his put-upon slave, Lucky. Burdened with bags, face downcast, stooped of posture, Schulze suffers in silence – save for one extended monologue that explodes in torrents of virtuosic nonsense.

Ty Doran is precisely what's called for as the Boy: the mild, unwitting messenger.

Dean's pared-to-essentials setting is the perfect Beckettian landscape, with its beautifully wrought barren tree, mud-colored floor and back walls painted the slate gray of twilight just before it lapses to total darkness.

Beckett's achievement with "Waiting for Godot" was to devise a theatrical experience as awesome as the insoluble mystery of life. It need hardly be added that, since Catastrophic's is a faithful, first-rate rendition, it's must-see theater.