WHERE IS THAT GUY, ANYWAY? Waiting for Godot.
Their tree is a coil of mottled cables tapering into two spindly branches, their mound for sitting on is a dull gray stone, and this terrain is simply lit by two blue and two bare lights: Thus the eternal empty landscape of the eternal attendants Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, as produced by the New Hampshire Theatre Project. Genevieve Aichele directs Peter Motson and Blair Hundertmark as the lead vagabonds of Samuel Beckett's beloved tragicomedy, at the West End Studio Theatre, in Portsmouth.
These hobo clowns are distinct in both affect and garb: Motson's Vladimir, or Didi, is dapper, perky, and fastidious in tweed. He makes a tripping hopscotch-hop of Didi's prostate-induced gait, almost puppet-like, often leading with his upper body as if there were something improbably but stubbornly buoyant in his chest. His friend Estragon, or Gogo, is scragglier and slouchier, with raggedy dark clothes and a mountain-mannish beard. In the entertaining hands of Motson and Hundertmark, the men's affection for each other and their basic decency are forefront as their banter, slapstick, and other shenanigans — alternately laconic, plaintive, and giddy — make a dithering, gently perplexed puzzle of their long wait.
Their interruption in the form of autocratic Pozzo (CJ Lewis) and his slave Lucky (Knate Higgins) is a beautiful contrast: Lewis, in charcoal pinstripes, has the booming manner of a big-chested capitalist; he laughs with a wide mouth full of teeth, and there's something unsettlingly psychopathic in his shifts in tone and volume as he alternates his attentions between the two vagabonds and Higgins's mincing, tattooed, nose-ringed Lucky. Lewis also makes striking work of Pozzo's foray into the lyrical, in his monologue about the twilight: all grandiosity until the quiet, deflated conclusion of how night will fall "just when we least expect it." Lewis's timing is taut, he wastes not a gesture, and he wields the power of a strong gaze held relentlessly on an inferior. Lucky's gaze has another kind of force in Higgins's hands — dark, grisly, and focused on nothing — and Higgins also makes sly, fluent, and very engrossing work of the slave's epic logorrheic moment.
As the men divert each other from the void, they use the space of the stage beautifully, often making fine use of silently held tableaux: Gogo and Didi sitting on their rock, chins in hands, downcast; Pozzo down center on his stool gazing up and off with a strongly set jaw; and Lucky standing down right with his morbid vacancy. Motson and Hundertmark also have a lot of fun with Didi and Gogo's physical comedy, such as Gogo's marvelously flailing bit of yoga as he "does the tree," or their delightful round of vaudevillian hat switches. At times I wanted a little more punctuation to their antics — for the action to be quicker and more fraught, and the subsequent silence more stone-still — to amp up both of the show's twin ethoi: its comedy and its underlying existential ache. But overall, Motson and Hundertmark are capable, diverting, and affecting as the men trying to make sense of their wait.