On opening night, right before the show, director David Richard Jones described the historic premiere of Beckett's first and most famous play, Waiting for Godot. Originally written and performed in French, Beckett hoped to find a smallish theater in Paris to stage it. He didn't have much luck. According to Jones, Beckett finally found a tiny venue on the brink of collapse. The owners had wearied of the financial and psychological stress of running a theater, so they decided to hammer in the last stake, figuring Waiting for Godot would be the ideal play to drive their little venture out of business.
They were so very, very wrong, of course, but Beckett, that perverted black humorist, must have relished the story anyway. It's a perfect backdrop to the play itself—one of the most bizarre and enduring curiosities of 20th century theater.
The Vortex Theatre, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, has a long history with this piece. Waiting for Godot was the first play ever staged in the black box theater. In 1991, the Vortex staged the play again to celebrate its 15th anniversary. So now it's entirely fitting that Godot would once again fail to show up for the theater's 30th anniversary.
The new production brings together a host of Albuquerque theater veterans, and the show definitely benefits from their collective experience. The story, such as it is, focuses on two tramps, trapped on a barren plain beside a dead tree. Estragon (Paul Ford) and Vladimir (Peter Shea Kierst) chat about various topics while waiting for Godot, a fellow we know nothing about who never shows his face during the entire play. Pozzo (Charles Fisher) and his luckless slave Lucky (William Sterchi) arrive to provide some black entertainment for the pair's amusement. A boy shows up, too, to report Godot will arrive soon. Obviously, he doesn't.
Jones and this cast have a fine ol' time with Beckett's clever and elusive word games. Although the play was originally written in French, the great Irish author translated it into his native tongue himself. It's an intensely verbal play, and these actors get plenty of mileage out of this, rolling around Beckett's words like bits of gravel in their mouths.
The tone is overtly bleak, which is typical of Beckett. His plays and novels tend to address similar themes and ideas—all of them dark. We're stuck in a godless world. We're born. We suffer. We're supremely disappointed. And we die. That's about it. Sure, we have momentary flashes of pleasure or fulfillment, but they don't last long, and we often don't even have the satisfaction of remembering them.
Thankfully, Beckett is also a comedian. He doesn't flinch from addressing the depressing transience of our existence, but he also exhibits a true talent for making sick jokes about it. This is why his plays are so enjoyable. They're severely harsh, but also hilarious.
The theater scene in Albuquerque has been getting livelier in recent years, but the Vortex laid the foundation for this blossoming a long time ago. It ain't easy turning 30, but the theater has aged gracefully, and it deserves a roaring bash in its honor. Pay your respects by buying tickets to this odd little show.