Friday, June 18, 2004

Theatre Friday: Pepper? I put it on my Soul.

Last night was a big night for me, theatrically speaking. It was the first time I have ever seen William Hutt on stage. It was also the first time I have ever seen Waiting for Godot in performance.

"Whaaaaaat?" you say. "Why have we been listening to this man and his so-called theatre blog all these years, when he hasn't even ever seen Godot?"

Hey, hey. Cut me some slack, yo. I've read Godot, written essays about it, even wrote an article for the National Post about its performance history and the difficulties in staging it today. But, yeah. I had never seen it before until last night.

The Soulpepper production, which opened the company's 2004 season last night, was a fine introduction to Godot on stage. Director Albert Schultz played up the humour of the piece and the legendary William Hutt, as Vladimir, was absolutely stellar. Such presence. I see why everyone goes on about him...

My only qualm about Hutt's performance was that he delivered his final speech -- the "gravedigger puts on the forceps" bit -- as if it was a Shakespearean monologue, as if he was Prospero at the end of The Tempest or something.

(Okay, one other little thing: Hutt had to call for a line at one point during the production. I've never actually seen that happen before on the professional stage, so it kind of threw me off for a few minutes. But, I mean, the guy's 84. Give him a break, huh?)

As for Jordan Pettle as Estragon, well, I wasn't really taken by his performance to be honest. It was good at points, but he seemed to be outside of his character, while Hutt was deep inside his. Pettle seemed very tightly-wound and didn't get nearly the laughs he should have on some lines.

Actually, Pozzo (Joseph Ziegler) sometimes acted in a similar "outside looking in" way in the production, leading me to believe that perhaps that was the way Schultz directed it, but Hutt got to do what he wanted.

A fine production, but a bit unbalanced: There was Hutt and then there was the play. I imagine this is why actors of similar statures/ages are usually cast as the two 'waiters" in Godot.

I am being a mite picky, because this is Soulpepper, the company that is purportedly the best in the country. I've only seen a couple of their shows, so I can't echo that sentiment. But WFG certainly whet my appetite for the rest of their season. 'Twas a very satisfying night out at the theatre. I was genuinely moved at the end.

Post-script

My interviews with Mssrs. Hutt and Schultz about Godot.

Interesting fact I learned in researching the Post article: Beckett himself was open to casting an older Vladimir with a younger Estragon and, in fact, that was almost the case for the first English-language production. An American theatre director proposed to put the play on with Buster Keaton and Marlon Brando in 1954, but unfortunately a problem with the rights killed that production, something Beckett always regretted.

The More You Learn...

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