So this is the way the world ends: watching a pair of post-apocalyptic hobos in a hot, abandoned theater play out the same situation day after day. Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot doesn't offer the audience a traditional narrative—there's no sense of closure after the play's two acts, just the sense that the events of the past two hours will continue, with some variation, for as long as the characters live.
In the case of Theatre Pro Rata's new production, the setting is as much a character as are the five actors in the company. The Hollywood Theater in northeast Minneapolis closed almost 25 years ago and has been largely abandoned since then. It's the very definition of a found space, one that works extremely well for the show at hand. The interior is broken down and tattered, just like the characters stuck in their endless wait.
Vladimir (Dave Gangler) and Estragon (James Rodriguez) spend their days living rough and waiting for the titular character (pronounced "gah-doh" here) to make his long-anticipated appearance. To pass the time, they complain about their sore feet or kidney stones, contemplate suicide by hanging themselves from a nearby tree, and occasionally question the nature of their endless wait.
A thankful interruption comes in the form of Pozzo, a slightly more dapper businessman, and his slave, the unfortunate Lucky. The two visitors stay for a while, cause a bit of chaos, then go on their way. At the end of the act, a boy arrives to let them know that Godot won't arrive today, and our two hobos go on their way.
Act Two follows the same pattern, and by now it's clear this has been going on for a long, long time. There are allusions that Vladimir and Estragon have spent decades together in the field. What they are waiting for exactly—salvation? the meaning of life? a clean shirt?—is never explicitly stated. Instead, Beckett focuses on what the situation has done to the characters.
Do these two dirty, sore, hungry men have the patience of Job, or are they so trapped by their inertia they cannot contemplate moving on? Meanwhile, Pozzo is endlessly moving, but doesn't seem to go anywhere. He may be better fed and cleaner, but he and Lucky are just as trapped in an endless cycle of sameness.
Gangler and Rodriguez make for an effective duo, playing the Vaudevillian moments and the crises with equal aplomb. Their two-man-act moments can be a lot of fun, but the characters really come alive when they begin to plumb the depths of their collective despair only to be saved by the friendship that has kept them coming back to this field, day after day, for years on end.
David Tufford as Pozzo and Jesse Corder as Lucky form a completely different kind of couple. Tufford is cool at first, ordering his slave about, enjoying a snack, and boldly telling tales. That changes when the slave manages to free himself, ever so briefly, leaving his master panic-stricken. That only intensifies in the second act, and Tufford's subtle changes in his character make it clear his character's mastery of the situation lies barely skin deep.
The other major player here is the theater itself. Director Ryan Ripley and the company put it to excellent use, using a cleared space amid the house for the majority of the action, but occasionally moving outside of those confines with chases up and down the aisles and even up to the projection booth. The crusty interior is a perfect match for the piece and the production, as it draws the audience fully into the run-down world of the characters.
There are some dangers in playing in the rough, however. Now that the hot summer has arrived, the temperature inside the un-air-conditioned theater can be stifling, making the repetition of the play itself at times a form of slow torture. There's not much to be done about that, except hope for cooler days. It'd be a shame for the audiences to miss out on such a solid production because they couldn't stand the heat.