Laughter fills the Marin Theatre Company as Vladimir and Estragon, the down-on-their-luck tramps of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” take their places once again to await the theater world’s best-known no-show.
If “Godot” is the last play you would expect to be funny, revisiting it is definitely in order. Sixty years after its Paris premiere, audiences still approach this existential masterpiece with trepidation.
But Beckett’s vaudevillian humor comes across brilliantly in the vibrant new production directed by company artistic director Jasson Minadakis. The play’s bleak worldview is still very much intact. But Minadakis’ well-timed, smartly cast staging shows how quick-witted and engaging “Godot” can be.
To be sure, this is a “Godot” that adheres to Beckett’s specifications. Liliana Duque Pineiro’s set, starkly lit by York Kennedy, features a lone rock and a leafless tree against a black backdrop.
And there’s no denying the sad plight of Vladimir and Estragon, whose suffering — be it from hunger, ill-fitting boots or a lifetime of tedium — is palpable.
But it’s precisely that suffering — and the absurd hope that keeps the characters waiting for Godot to come to their rescue — that makes the play so funny. Anyone who has felt themselves plodding through life, wondering what it’s all about, can relate.
The production benefits from two well-matched actors in the principal roles.
Mark Anderson Phillips is Estragon, the sly, expansive, often comically befuddled half of the pair; Mark Bedard is the leaner, loquacious, more intense Vladimir.
Shuffling around the stage in shapeless, rag-bag clothes (costumes by Maggie Whitaker), their carefully wrought interdependence and mutual exasperation registers in each word, glance and precisely timed bit of comic shtick.
Minadakis ups the ante with the arrival of Pozzo (the invaluable James Carpenter) and his wan, beleaguered servant, Lucky (the resourceful Ben Johnson).
Carpenter gives an electrifying performance as the cruel and “not particularly human” aristocrat who leaves Vladimir and Estragon grasping for explanations.
Lucas Meyers and Sam Novick alternate in the role of the boy who arrives at key intervals, bearing messages from Godot.
The physical humor is often laugh-out-loud funny, but it never goes over the top; Minadakis relies on the rhythms of Beckett’s mordant, poetic, timeless text to keep things on track.
“Time has stopped,” Vladimir observes at one point. The marvel of this production is how briskly it moves along.