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THEATER REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company’s production of ‘Waiting for Godot’ plays through September 4

Director Joe Calarco is in top form: His vision of Samuel Becket’s classic is brilliantly conceived and elegantly executed—one of the most exceptional productions I've seen.

My curiosity to see Barrington Stages Company’s (BSC) production of “Waiting for Godot” was based on what director Joe Calarco would do with it. He’s demonstrated keen versatility in his past work at BSC with vastly different material, the most recent Sondheim fairy-tale musical, “Into the Woods,” and the sinister, two-hander psycho-drama, “Sister Sorry.” In all his work, Calarco, like the best directors, creates a totally defined unique world on stage, wholly integrated with theme, character, and narrative. Here Calarco is in top form: his vision of Samuel Becket’s classic is brilliantly conceived and elegantly executed—one of the most exceptional productions I’ve seen.

The world envisioned and staged by Calarco is visually stunning—beautiful, actually—and a perfectly balanced orchestration of design (Luciana Stecconi), lighting (David Lander), costume (Debra Kim Sivigny), and sound (Nathan Leigh). The playing space, nearly one half of the area of the St. Germain theater, is almost a deep square, with plain walls—sides and rear. The actual stage (the country road in Becket’s setting) is an elevated diagonal platform that runs from the theater entrance downstage far left to an open exit upstage far right. The empty geometry is an apt metaphor for the negative spaces alluded to in Becket’s themes of dislocation and alienation. The long stretch of diagonal stage accommodates the full length of rope master Pozzo uses to control his slave Lucky so at one point the rope connects both characters off stage—a visual allusion to no beginning and no end—a predicament that burdens old friends Vladimir and Estragon, Becket’s central characters.

The props on the stage are minimalist: an old gnarled tree—the branches of which stretch out across the theater ceiling in and out of the suspended lighting creeping out over the audience—and a pile of flat rock and a crooked, battered chair anchored on it. The costumes are a palette of earth tones—from dusty grays (Vladimir’s topcoat) to matte brown leather (Pozzo’s overcoat)—which adds a stunning complement to the monochrome landscape. Subtle lighting shifts punctuate an eternal passage of time.

Calarco has extracted from a solid cast perfectly calibrated performances. BSC regular Mark H. Dodd as Vladimir and Kevin Isola as Estragon contrast well. Dodd is the larger, sturdier character; the shorter Isola plays the (ostensibly) emotionally needier of the pair. Christopher Innvar as Pozzo brings the right notes of menace to Pozzo in Act 1, then haplessness in Act 2. As Lucky, Max Wolkowitz carries the heaviest and most demanding soliloquy in Beckett’s script with impeccable timing. Local student Maximus Holey as A Boy is inspired casting.

It seems contradictory to describe BSC’s “Waiting for Godot” as athletic because nothing happens in this existential classic (well, not really, but…), but Calarco has infused all the performances with extraordinary—yet subtle—movement. As in all “Godot” productions, there’s a nod to vaudeville slapstick, but here the physical dimensions of the characters are especially distinctive. Witness the brief scene wherein Vladimir inspects Estragon’s injured leg: it’s balletic.

As timeless as Becket’s words and as fine as the performances, director Calarco makes this BSC production of “Waiting for Godot” a director’s “Waiting for Godot.”

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