There was a time (waaaaaay back in the 90’s) when Hollywood was hell-bent on producing lavishly decorated period pieces. All the trades opined that actors were having a difficult time living up to script and production quality. These days, theater, certainly in Los Angeles, seems to be going a bit more minimal again: less “stuff,” more theater. The West Coast premiere of Waiting For Waiting For Godot at Sacred Fools has a similar approach.
In the dressing room of a production of Waiting For Godot, two hopeful understudies (Ester and Val, get it? Get it?) ruminate, discuss, and agonize about the perils of actually getting their shot at stage time, agents, audience appreciation and relevance. They are, of course, “waiting.” The brutally obvious joke is that this play is clearly trying to take the themes and characters and style of Beckett’s classic while twisting it for “today.” The biggest problem here, unlike the Hollywood period pieces of the ‘90s, is that the material in Waiting For Waiting… isn’t worthy of the talent on stage.
Actors Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Bruno Oliver are hard-core theatrical A-gamers who rarely miss a beat in a performance. Here, they bravely soldier through a production which shifts in tone so often it’s hard to know what we’re watching: is this an over-the-top clowning piece with imagined music numbers and lighting shifts or is this a real-time, bleakly comedic character piece set backstage? The show crams in all of these things and suffers from the confusion. Julie Marchiano as the Assistant Stage Manager does a fine job with what she’s given, which is, essentially to explain that anybody can act and it doesn’t take a lot of talent. Sadly, this is not disproven by the other characters in the show. So if the ASM is the most grounded character in the production, what is the play saying about actors?
Perhaps the biggest issue is that Waiting For… has nothing new to say. Sure, there are some fun moments (Oliver’s movie dialogue rant and Hernandez-Kolski earnest confusion), but where Beckett’s play may be an allegory for letting life pass you by (and the many other meanings stuffed in there), Dave Hanson’s take on it simply revisits and actually discusses the point of the play it’s riffing on.
Ignoring purpose and settling back to simply enjoy a work of comedy with two incredible actors, one finds many comedy beats forced. Whether directorial or in the script, much of the silent clowning seems out of place with the rest of the piece.
There is great talent in Waiting For Waiting For Godot at Sacred Fools. They need better material.
Photo above by Jessica Sherman Photography: Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Bruno Oliver.
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