Waiting for Godot is a play about two guys killing time while waiting endlessly for a character who never shows up. Sounds like a flimsy premise for a play, right? Wrong. Waiting for Godot has been one of the most widely staged plays around the world since its 1953 Parisian premiere, and was voted the “most significant English language play of the 20th century” by a British Royal National Theatre poll of 800 playwrights, actors, directors and journalists.
With revivals of the play recently flaring up on the stages of New York, London and Sydney, Ho Chi Minh City’s Dragonfly Theatre Co. decided it would be an ideal time for the play’s first Vietnamese staging. As director Ryan Burkwood says, “The absurdity of life, the universe and everything in between is always relevant!”
Word: Why did you guys decide to put on Waiting for Godot?
Ryan Burkwood: Waiting for Godot has always been my favourite play, the absurdity coupled with the probing questions about humanity has always been a draw.
Who will play the leads? Will they play the characters deadpan or wacky?
RB: Our Vladimir and Estragon will be played by Aaron Toronto (one of the founders of Dragonfly Theatre) and Gene Pierce (a recent discovery for us, a seasoned actor). There is a certain level of absurdity to the characters portrayal but everything is rooted in real responses to situations.
Aaron Toronto: We feel really lucky to have the actors we do, each one is perfect for the part they’re playing. We definitely hope to be working with all of them in future productions. I love working with Gene, he brings so much life and energy to the play through his acting. In addition to Gene, we have two other first-time actors with Dragonfly, Leon Bowen and JK Kazzi. Leon has a powerful stage presence, filling every space he comes into. And JK is a true discovery. Though he’s still only in high school, he’s giving an incredible performance in rehearsals.
You guys have lately focused on stripped-down, psychological subject matter in the plays you put on. Is that a logistical question, or something specific in your focus?
AT: We’ve actually have had a history of doing plays that are, you may say, aesthetically in-your-face: electric-hued costumes and Beyoncé in 18th century Dangerous Liaisons being an example. But Blue/Orange and Waiting for Godot definitely have a more stripped-down aesthetic. In Blue/Orange, it was simply realism. We wanted the focus to be on the intense psychological warfare going on between the characters. In Godot, the starkness of the play, the lack of aesthetic stimuli, becomes a powerful aesthetic in and of itself, actually. It is a visceral depiction of the bleakness in the characters’ souls.
Waiting for Godot had a recent Broadway revival, with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart playing the leads. Did this renewed buzz contribute to your decision to put it on?
RB: I was quite disappointed with the Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen version, while both are wonderful actors that I have the utmost respect for I feel they missed the essential nuance of the piece. Beckett wrote the piece as a symphony, each punctuation mark is a rest or a beat in a musical score, much like the iambic pentameter in Shakespeare.
What’s next on the slate? When?
RB: Our next play will be something quite unique, unfortunately we can’t give too much away right now as it’s a play (or series of plays) from a very famous American author that we guarantee you will not have seen before! Look out for that early next year!
AT: Amen to that.
Waiting for Godot takes place at Cargo Bar, 7 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Q4, HCMC, from Oct. 9 to 12 (Oct. 9, 10 and 12 at 7pm; Oct. 11 at 3.30pm).
Entrance is VND300,000 in advance, VND350,000 at the door. For more information visit facebook.com/dragonflyvietnam.