Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seattle Fringe Festival 2013, Waiting for Godot and Aisle 9

While I was galavanting to San Francisco and back on business, the Weisenheimer saw two of this year's Seattle Fringe Festival offerings: Waiting for Godot and Aisle 9. He was so impressed that he got tickets for me to join him on Saturday, during the 60 hours I was home between business travel and fun travel. 

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 think of Godot as our time's mystery play for post-Christian people. Ok, for me. It is dripping with references to scripture, salvation, sacrifice, torture, slavery, faith, redemption and, natch, waiting for someone who never happens. It is elegantly simple, highly structured and ritualized, and practically liturgical (liturgy=work of/for/by the people) as the cast milled around in costume but not necessarily in character before curtain and during the intermission, interacting with the audience, talking about and playing with hats, and generally creating the sense that we had come together to do the Beckett. (Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to do some the name two or three are gathered fuck it. Nothing to be done.)

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.
Bruneau weaves these separate acts together into one whole, using lovely ideas like costumes and the act of dressing and undressing to mark the changing years and relationship roles; shopping cart bumpercars and ballet; and grocery baskets that seem to carry the stuff of years. I'm so curious what the process was. How much discussion did each playwright have before writing, with Bruneau or with each other? Did they read each other's plays? However Bruneau and the playwrights did it, it all gelled.

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. 


Anonymous said...

...methinks, you are a tad better writer than the Big W....

certainly prettier...

Happy Trails,


Sweetie the Official Scorer said...

@Anonymous/JO: This is not a competition, just an exhibition; and besides, the W contributed the best line in this review! We do this collaboratively. I will, however, accept that I am prettier. We are having a splendid vacation, wish you were here, hugs to you and Nancy.