Beckett in Budapest

Waiting for Godot at the Bethlen Square Theatre 

Guest Performance from Latinovits Theatre of Budaörs 

 

The one great departure that Kristóf Kovács makes in his direction of Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett’s incomparable opus of ennui and cabaret theatre, is to cast an actress (Sára Bohoczki) as Godot’s messenger. When asked why, he explained that in a play where the other four characters are men, the appearance of a female at the end of acts one and two immediately creates tension. (However, it is disturbing when one horny character seems about to molest her.) The director went on to explain that he wanted to showcase two completely different messengers. My impression was of a young and naive child in the first act and an insensitive, officious cog within a nameless, soulless corporation in the second.

The text is certainly open to diverse readings. We receive precious little information about the two bums, Vladimir and Estragon, who claim they want to move on, but wait night after night for the appearance of the god-like Godot. While they wait, they meet the even more enigmatic Pozzo and his slave, the ironically-named Lucky, who is bound to his master by a rope or a leash. If the play is working, we should feel the tedium of waiting as an expression of our everyday human condition; but, at the same time, it should also be funny. A daunting task, yet theatre-makers are tempted time and time again to stage this haunting text.

The absolutely good news is that Miklós B. Székely was born to play Vladimir. He is the consummate natural actor. (Just listen to how he interrupts!) If he says onstage, “I slept in a ditch last night,” I believe him completely. József Tóth as Estragon, who appears strikingly androgynous is his formless white shirt and bowler cap, is far more stylized. For the first half, they seem to be in different plays. Why is Vladimir so fond of Estragon? Why does Estragon seem to delight in teasing Vladimir? Their relationship needs more fleshing out. On this occasion, they seem to be repressed homosexuals, but that should come as no surprise. After all, their passive-aggressive dynamic is mirrored in the master-slave relationship of Pozzo and Lucky, which could also be a reflection of their relationship to Godot, which reeks of Catholic angst.

Yes, I wish the producers had devised a more creative visual world for the play. I also wish Róbert Ilyés would identify more with the character of Pozzo and not just play for effect. The first 90 minutes is tough going, but what is Beckett without a little pain? In act two, the magic of the language asserts itself. Although the situation becomes more disturbing, the strange humor remains intact, as the piece culminates in a sense of annihilating despair. If you are craving a fix of Beckett, the second act delivers.

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