WHEN BERT LAHR starred in the 1956 Broadway production of "Waiting for Godot," the actor claimed he never understood a word he was saying. He probably wasn't alone in feeling that way.
Once a jarring slap at theatrical convention and complacency, Samuel Beckett's opaque tragicomedy "Waiting for Godot" has, over 30 years, become familiar theatrical terrain. It remains a puzzler, however.
At Source Theater, Phil Setren set out to revive the enigmatic play once again, and, perhaps to attract attention, he has cast women in the male roles. This change sounds more novel than it actually is, and the casting quirk is soon forgotten, even though the characters continue to refer to each other in the male gender. Setren's commendable decision doesn't alter the play; it just gives actresses a go at these intriguing roles.
Two seedy tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, rendezvous daily to wait wearily for Godot, a vague figure whose name is the only information revealed about him. The two loiter near a barren tree in a future Waste Land -- and nothing happens. They fill the maddeningly humdrum hours with conundrums and thorny comic dialogue that quickly evaporates into numb silences. A diversion appears in the form of cruel, ignorant fatcat Pozzo, jerking along a gaunt wretch on a rope (with wicked irony, Beckett names this slave Lucky). But the bums are trapped; even if they could bring themselves to leave, it's unclear whether there is anywhere else to go.
We can credit (or blame) Beckett for touching off the absurdist avalanche of disenchanted dramas that proclaim "there is no hope, life is irrational . . . ." Trying to definitively pin a meaning on "Godot" is futile -- the playwright himself insisted that "Godot" is not a stand-in for God, and that there is no precise scheme of meaning behind the play.
Setren directs with a seady, surehanded pace, and the cast give fine performances. Beverly Brigham Bowman, looking like a weatherbeaten Emmett Kelly, brings an affecting pathos to Vladimir; and as the more antic Estragon, Prudence Barry is an amusingly popeyed Sad Sack. Ann Content is a blustery, doltish Pozzo; and Christi Engel delivers Lucky's remarkable monologue of contentless "thought" with glassy-eyed speed.
WAITING FOR GODOT -- At Source Theater's Warehouse Rep through September.