'Godot' finds perfect home at Hollywood Theater

Vladimir (Dave Gangler) and Estragon (James Rodriguez) take a break from the endless wait.

Vladimir (Dave Gangler) and Estragon (James Rodriguez) take a break from the endless wait.

​Some venues are chosen, others seem to be made for the task at hand.

The Hollywood Theater, an abandoned movie house in Northeast, seems to have been created specifically for Theatre Pro Rata's production of Waiting for Godot. Inside, layers of paint have peeled away, crafting impromptu pieces of modern art. Tattered curtains hang by the screen, while many of the seats have been removed, are marked off with yellow police tape as being unsafe, or are obviously crumbling.

"We're basically surrounded by the best set dressing," says director Ryan Ripley, surveying the theater's interior. "It would have taken us weeks and weeks and an unthinkable budget to make it look this perfect for Waiting for Godot."

Pro Rata's production of Samuel Beckett's landmark work plays in the center of the house, where many of the seats had previously been removed. There, the set pieces have the same broken-down ambience as the theater, with the central tree duct-taped together.

Ripley's idea for the production? "What if these characters had gotten together and done this play when the theater was brand new, and at some point the world ended. They kept doing it while the building falls apart around them. They keep doing it because that's what actors do."

Ripley came on board last fall to direct the show, and the first step was finding a space. "I wanted some space that would feel abandoned. I called the city about this space, and to see if there was any chance they would let us use it for a few weekends in the summer," he says.

The Hollywood has a long history. It opened in 1935 and continued to show films for the next half century. It closed in 1987 and was declared a local historical landmark in 1990. It has sat abandoned since then, occasionally being used (like at Art-a-Whirl, for example).

These days, it's definitely a rough space. There are only two outlets in the building and no plumbing (portable toilets will be brought in for the show). The lighting will be as basic as the set, all of which aids in the production of the show, Ripley says.

"It has a feeling of being in someone's old basement or old attic. There's a feeling that when you first come in here, you don't know where to sit down, or where it would be safe to sit down," he adds.

Ripley cast Dave Gangler as Vladimir and James Rodriguez as Estragon. "I was looking for actors who could walk in both worlds where the play exists," he says. "There are these Vaudevillian moments, and then it gets very real, very naturalistic, and somber. And then they bounce back."

The rest of the cast includes David Tufford as Pozzo, Jesse Corder as Lucky, and Hazel Cutting as Boy.

What the play--with its two characters waiting day after day for the titular character to finally arrive--is ultimately about is something Ripley wants the audience to talk about in the coffee shops and on the ride home. 

"On the first day of rehearsal, I told the actors to not seek the answer of who is Godot. Who the character is seems to shift through the play. I wanted them to focus on what does he mean to the character right now, at this moment," Ripley says.

No matter the slippery nature of the text, the director wants audiences to see and feel how accessible and funny the play can be.

"It's a very dense piece, but we hope we have brought out the comedic elements. I think the audiences will find the play to be not quite as intimidating as they perceive it to be," Ripley says.

Waiting for Godot runs Friday through July 23.