We are indeed here in Ashland now, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for our ninth year. But I loved kicking off 14 shows in 16 days with Beckett back home. One World Theatre's Waiting for Godot is a kick in the pants, and these guys know what they're doing. They should, as three of them—Shawn Belyea, Jeff Page, and K. Brian Neel—played these parts 23 years ago. A Seattle Weekly review praising that 1990 production griped only that the actors were 20 years too young for the roles, thus providing the inside joke for this revival.
|The cast of Waiting for Godot.|
Clockwise from upper left: Belyea,
Page, Neel, and Moore.
I loved the clowning, the ramshackle Laurel-and-Hardyesque funny business, the outrageousness of everything that happened, even as nothing happened—twice (in Vivien Mercier's famous assessment). Gogo is aimless, and Belyea played him with a wonderful agelessness, as a lunk of a kid and a sleepy old man. Page's Didi was piercing and frowny, as if there was always something just beyond his grasp. Neel was squirmy disturbing as Lucky, and Moore was perfectly pompous and anguished as Pozzo.
Alas, I didn't see it 23 years ago, but I like to imagine Belyea, Page, and Neel are even funnier and more grotesque than they were then. As Page said in a lovely quote in our playbill, "We don't have to be precious to the Beckett, we have to be precious to the funny." I hope they and Moore do it again in another 20 years.
Plays that delve into the conduct of people's broken romantic relationships generally aren't my favorite thing. Turns out, I'm afraid of Virginia Woolf and some of the other stuff Edward Albee has written. We walked out of ACT's Rapture, Blister, Burn at intermission in large part because the relationship stuff between exes was so boring. Radial Theater Project's Aisle 9 is about a couple's relationship at three points in their lives, and I'm glad the Weisenheimer chose it because, even though it might not be my favorite subject matter, I liked everything else about it. Not a surprise, given that Aimée Bruneau was involved, conceiving and directing the project.
This play was written by three different playwrights. K. Brian Neel (yes, Lucky in Godot; talented guy!) wrote a quirky-funny, engaging first act, where our characters Ben and Oona meet in aisle 9 of a grocery store in 1983. Keri Healey wrote the present-day act in which Ben and Oona bump into each other in the same aisle of the same grocery store, shortly after their divorce, and loop through multiple versions of that meeting—real or imagined? And Wayne Rawley closes the play with Ben in the ruins of the condemned grocery store meeting one last time with Oona's spirit and memory, a touching close, with some futuristic Twitter funny business.
|Erin Stewart and Sam Hagen in Aisle 9. |
Photo: Truman Buffett.
The performances from Sam Hagen as Ben and Erin Stewart as Oona had everything to do with the play being so enjoyable. Ben and Oona are barely likable characters, but Hagen and Stewart made them vulnerable and human, and made us care. Their performances took what could have been an interesting idea and experiment with some snappy writing and smart direction and turned it into a living, breathing play.