Since the world did not end in the year 2000, a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus concludes, God must not be into numerology. Producers, however, are: These days, anyone who’s ever been anyone gets a lavish, usually ludicrous centennial. So what does it mean that in 2006, the highlight of Samuel Beckett’s big party has been an Off Broadway revival, and an unsatisfying one at that?
At the Classical Theatre of Harlem, Didi and Gogo turn up on a collapsing roof, surrounded by water. Get it? This is Waiting for Godot, post-Katrina. Director Christopher McElroen commits the cardinal Beckettian sin—the show’s not funny enough. His frame is distracting, as the acute desperation of Katrina survivors isn’t much like the long, tedious ordeal of existence that Beckett’s tramps endure. Whoever Godot is, he’s not working for FEMA. But the approach does yield one transcendent moment. When Vladimir (a superb Wendell Pierce) says, “The air is full of our cries” and starts waving frantically at the sky, we see not the specific crisis of Katrina but the systemic crisis that left Americans—mostly poor, mostly black—stranded on their rooftops. That problem is almost existential.
At the Cherry Lane, tiny Kaliyuga Arts didn’t do much better withAll That Fall, Beckett’s rarely staged radio play. Wobbly acting and a silly forties-broadcast-studio conceit muddied the story about old Maddy Rooney’s trudge to the train station to retrieve her blind husband. The play itself, however, is odd and sometimes entrancing. Beckett, the bard of absence, had a natural flair for the noise and silence of radio. Of course, the only truly fitting tribute would be to stage Beckett constantly. As Edward Albee once said, “I am not interested in living in a city where there isn’t a production of Samuel Beckett running.”