Firebelly Productions, one of Arlington's newest theater companies, may be having difficulty creating an identity, a key component in selling tickets and staying alive in one of the country's most active and crowded theater communities. The problem is exacerbated by its choice of productions this summer and fall, which might be described as reruns.
Firebelly's current production is Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." The troupe might have had more than eight patrons (and one reviewer) for last Sunday's matinee if audiences had not been recently treated to a superb production of the play at Arlington's long-established Washington Shakespeare Company. While "Godot" might be generally considered one of the greatest plays of the last century, it is by no means an audience magnet. It might simply be asking too much of local theatergoers to see it again so soon, particularly when this production has little new to offer. It will be interesting to see what happens this fall when Firebelly, a professional theater company, mounts Ken Ludwig's lightweight comedy "Moon Over Buffalo," which almost every area community theater seems to have taken a crack at in the last few years.
Audiences will finally get a chance to see what Firebelly is capable of with fresh material next year when it stages new plays penned by one of the actors in "Waiting for Godot," David Cahill. But for now, Cahill is Estragon, a tramp who, with his companion Vladimir, played by Phillip James Brannon, spends the entire two hours of the play waiting for the expected, but never realized, arrival of the mysterious Godot, a man they do not know and a figure about whom the audience is left to wonder.
As they wait, they meet an eccentric master and a half-dead slave (Kristin Villanueva and Michael Eggleston), and a boy (Ann Walker) who pops by each day to say Godot will not be there. The waiting takes place in a desolate, unchanging landscape and it is the waiting, which fills each day in a continuing circle filled with oblique and often pointless dialogue, that forces audiences to confront whether life has any meaning to it. Or maybe not. Beckett famously allowed that individual analysis of the piece is all that matters, as if it were an abstract painting, so the possibilities are endless.
Directed by Kathi Gollwitzer, Cahill and Brannon are a mismatched pair. Cahill must have attended the Stanley Kowalski school of overacting, mistaking volume for spirit, his constant bellows, caterwauling and shrieks filling the small Theater on the Run to an excruciating, mind-numbing level.
Brannon, meanwhile, has a much more subtle touch, which results in insight as his Vladimir quietly and carefully threads his way between anguish and comedy, allowing the audience to catch its breath between Cahill's assaults on its senses and contemplate the enduring absurdity of the world as etched by Beckett.
Villaneueva's offbeat portrayal of Pozzo, the pompous male exploiter of the hapless and mostly silent drudge in servitude, ironically named Lucky, is unique and refreshing. A diminutive woman playing against type, she is puckish, which unexpectedly adds an extra layer of existentialism to Beckett's unfathomable universe.
Gollwitzer has opted to keep the tiny black-box theater completely unadorned, save for a coat rack that stands in for the tree upon which Estragon considers hanging himself, and a projection of a chalk-like drawing of a tree on the black rear curtain, the non-specific setting allowing subjective meditation on the meaning of meaninglessness.
"Waiting for Godot," by Firebelly Productions, continues through Aug. 8 at Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets or information, call 703-409-2372 or visit www.firebellyproductions.net.