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Godot Comes to Calais

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From left, Donny Osman, Clarke Jordan, Matthew Grant Winston and Tom Murphy. Courtesy photo.

Waiting for the return of live theater? “Waiting for Godot” opens a two-week run on August 12 at the Unadilla Theater in Calais, running Thursday through Sunday.  Show times are 7:30 p.m. on the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 20th, and 21st and a matinee at 2:30 p.m. on the 22nd.

From a humble and not very successful beginning at a small Paris theater, Samuel Beckett’s play has become one of the most important plays of the twentieth century. A true modern classic, “Waiting for Godot” is one of the most produced plays in the world and for good reason. Beckett calls the work, “A tragic comedy in two acts.”

The two main characters, hobos perhaps, call to mind at times Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. At other times they are poets, players, fighters, and fierce friends. They are waiting for a character to come who (spoiler alert) never shows up. 

“What do we do now?” asks Vladimir. “Wait.” replies Estragon. “Yes, but while waiting.” 

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Godot never shows up but the strange and enigmatic Pozzo and Lucky, master and slave, do show up to help “fill the void.” One critic famously said that Beckett has written a play in which “nothing happens twice.” Another countered, “It is true that nothing happens twice, but in that nothing there is everything.”

This production boasts an extraordinary cast with over a century of combined professional experience as performers, actors, and writers.   

Jeanne Beckwith of Roxbury directs the play. Beckwith is a multi-talented theater director, playwright, and scholar. Her plays have been staged from coast to coast and as far away as Dublin, London, and Istanbul. This year, her new play in process, “Sam and Jim in Hell,” had a public reading at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier on Saint Patrick’s Day. In the play Samuel Beckett and James Joyce meet on a park bench by the river Liffey. They might very well be in Hell.

The cast in order of appearance features Matthew Grant Winston as Estragon. Winston is a graduate of the renowned drama school at SUNY Purchase. He is a well-known and highly sought after local actor with a wide resume on Vermont stages. Winston says that he has always wanted to play the part of Estragon, which was originated by the great Bert Lahr in the first Broadway production.

Donny Osman plays Vladimir. Osman has a long history in theater; he founded and directed The Two Penny Circus, which toured New England and beyond for ten years, and he toured his own solo shows and taught theater worldwide for more than 20 years. He played a leadership role in founding Circus Smirkus, was the Director of the Vermont Governor’s Institute on the Arts, and was elected to the Vermont Legislature. Osman says that for the last few years between riding his bike in the summer and skiing in the winter and watching Netflix year round, there is not enough time in the day.  

The hapless Lucky is played by Tom Murphy, aka Murph, aka The Physical Comedian. Murphy has been touring professionally for over 40 years. His fame is worldwide. He is an internationally revered performer/clown in the vaudevillian tradition. He can juggle fire, ride a ten-foot unicycle, and easily fall off a six-foot stage. But he says that playing Lucky and memorizing his famous, incredible speech is the hardest thing he has ever done in theater. 

Clarke Jordan plays the sometimes cruel and sometimes piteous Pozzo. After 20-some seasons at Unadilla playing mostly kings or clowns he’s enjoying taking on Pozzo, who seems to him a bit of both. His first encounter with Godot was as Estragon in a high school production in 1968. Since then he has appeared in productions of “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Happy Days” and is a very big fan of Mr. Beckett’s work. 

At first rejected and misunderstood by critics and audiences, “Waiting for Godot” began its rise to mythic status after a famously successful performance at San Quentin prison. The inmates saw themselves reflected in the play. Susan Sontag launched a production in response to the civil war in Sarajevo. The strength of the play is in its openness and mystery. “Waiting for Godot” uniquely reflects back to each individual audience member a glimpse of their own world view.  As the character Pozzo says, “That’s how it is on this bitch of an earth.”

For more information and tickets contact unadilla.org, 802-456-8968, or unadilla@pshift.com.