Review: WAITING FOR GODOT at CATASTROPHIC THEATRE a dazzling revival of the Beckett masterwork for a limited run!
If there is one thing THE CATASTROPHIC THEATRE COMPANY seems to revel in, it’s a good revival or resurrection. For their 2023-2024 season opener they have brought back their stunning 2013 version of WAITING FOR GODOT complete with most of the cast intact. Director Jason Nodler once again teams up with actors Greg Dean, Charlie Scott, Kyle Sturdivant, and Troy Schulze to bring to life Samuel Beckett’s most famous “play about nothing” to dazzle and bewilder audiences. Mack Hutchison is the only new face as a young boy, and he’s a welcome addition to the troop of tramps and scamps. You are never going to see a more definitive version of this show in Houston, and CATASTROPHIC is the company to bring it to you.
Samuel Beckett invented absurdist theater when he emerged with WAITING FOR GODOT in 1953. His play jettisons any notion of plot, exposition, characterization, setting, or dialogue. It is almost more of a happening than a traditional play, as the audience simply experiences an existential experiment in almost dada influenced poetry that masquerades as conversations. All we know is we are watching two tramps as they wait for a mythical character named Godot, and the man never seems to come. Have they been there a day or an eternity? Who knows? Three characters come in and out of the scenes who seem to further complicate the perception of time or logic.
Much has been made over the decades on what WAITING FOR GODOT means. Is the missing character God? Beckett adamantly refused that explanation, but it would be so like him to be a contrarian in the face of a religious void. The word in French means literally “military boots”, so some conjecture it is a political satire and they are waiting for a revolution that never comes. Godot could simply be hope, and the two men are hoping for… well… more hope. Are the men lovers? Are they merely friends? Or do they even know each other from day to day? Are they really just iterations of Laurel and Hardy? There are no answers in the play, only more questions. There is nothing to moor yourself to as an audience other than the performances of the company.
It is the kind of play CATASTROPHIC does best – total artistic anarchy. And they have whipped out the “big guns” with Greg Dean, Charlie Scott, Kyle Sturdivant, and Troy Shculze. Each man is a legend of Houston theater in their own right. Hell! Greg Dean’s bio takes up nearly three pages of the program simply because he has done so much in his lifetime. This is an embarrassment of riches, and a nuclear war explosion when you are expecting a fireworks show. This cast knows the script, knows these characters, and you will likely never see a more assured WAITING FOR GODOT anywhere. It should be required that every student of HSPVA see this performance, and smartly they have drafted at least one in Mack Hutchison to play the young man. It’s all immaculate. Jason Nodler directs this play as his magnum opus, and he could build an entire theatrical resume simply off this.
Greg Dean and Charlie Scott were born to play the parts of tramps Vladmir and Estragon, and with ten years more of life on them they are even better than ever before. These two banter, bicker, and clown off each other with ease, and they make every scene tick and tock like a Swiss made watch. They are elegant absurdist surgeons working miracles on their patient, never wasting a line or a gesture. Kyle Sturdivant is a force of nature like a hurricane or tsunami, and his Pozzo is sublimely camp and over the top. He’s pitch perfect, and I need a Pozzo action figure in his image to keep me happy on dark days. Troy Schulze as Lucky can steal a moment with a flick of his eyes, and his fever-pitched monologue is a scene you will not be able to shake weeks after seeing this production. It’s a play unto itself, and deserves its own lecture series. Young Mack Hutchison holds his own against these vets, and makes for an earnest boy who may or may not know when his master Godot will reveal himself. They are all sublime, and criticism fails me at this moment. Just let me be a fangirl, and leave it at that. This is a Taylor Swift Eras Tour level event for fans of absurdist theater.
Afsaneh Aayani provides the austere set that works perfectly as a tree and a rock are about all you need, and she delivers both beautifully. John Smetak lights this thing with a gorgeous glow letting us know when day is night and vice versa. You can almost smell Macy Lyne’s costumes, and they are so effectively part of the characterization she deserves billing with the actors. Zachary Finch and Tamarie Cooper obviously helped keep the standards high, and got out of the way of the director and cast. Not like they had much choice given the energy on the stage. Technically, these minds are as in tune with Beckett as the actors.
Does the word symphonic make sense here in describing WAITING FOR GODOT? Certainly this cast all combine to make this exquisite musical piece sing and soar. If you love absurdist theater, then there is no other destination for you between now and October 14th than the MATCH complex. You may find me there camped out wanting to witness and pry all of the secrets from this dense and wonderfully produced play. It gives me hope that hope will come. And it makes me just a little more in love with THE CATASTROPHIC THEATRE company.