Bring the angst 

Director’s Festival revisits Beckett and Lonergan

The University of Montana’s second annual Director’s Festival showcases two plays that investigate the tedium of waiting and explore individuals locked in stasis. Characters figuratively glance at their wristwatches, twiddle their thumbs, tap their fingers or toes in anticipation of the arrival of some je ne sais quoi that will fill the vacuum. In Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth, two young, rich, pot-smoking, coke-snorting New Yorkers sit around an unkempt bachelor pad waiting for a phone call, for women, for drugs. While they wait, they bicker, scheme and further destroy the apartment. In Samuel Beckett’s existential classic, Didi and Gogo are still, of course, Waiting for Godot.

“The manifesto or creed of the Director’s Festival is that it’s a new cutting-edge script or a new approach to a classic,” says Teresa Waldorf, the UM drama instructor directing Waiting for Godot. In her version of the classic, Godot is a woman and so is the rest of the cast: the two lead characters, Didi and Gogo, who impatiently yet faithfully await Godot; the odd master-servant pair that interrupts the endless waiting; and the frightened messenger that brings word of Godot’s repeated delays.

In the traditional version of the play, Didi and Gogo sit under a tree and bite their fingernails, swat flies and take cat-naps while they passively wait for Godot—whomever he is. “The subject of the play is how to pass the time given the fact that the situation is hopeless,” says Waldorf. For her, though, the leap from script to stage yields activity: Didi and Gogo fritter the time away with antics and arguments, wrestling with shoes, juggling hats, pocketing turnips and snacking on carrots. Like Laurel and Hardy, one of Beckett’s inspirations for the lead duo, Didi and Gogo are perfect foils of each other and any interaction—even a still, silent exchange of glances—is comical. The layer of humor is necessary, says Waldorf, because it makes the play’s tragicomic theme—the infinite waiting—accessible.

The chemistry between the two lead actors and their flawless sense of comedic timing ensures a successful performance—humorous and heartbreaking. As Gogo, Becky Wilson enchants and alarms. She depicts the wide-eyed, innocent, helpless and child-like Gogo who is anguished by the waiting. In the same character, she finds the jester who gives sharp, cruel parodies of others’ idiosyncrasies—cruel because her portrayals are bitingly accurate. Karen Jean Olds as Didi plays the protector, the boss. She sinks into a character that is at once confident and sure of her purpose and mission—to wait, here, by the tree, on Saturday—and one who must question reality each time her cohort sleeps, forgets and cannot verify the reality in which together they exist. Olds delivers the most moving lines of the play near the end of Act II when she articulates the search for life and for meaning as she watches—with more longing than envy—Gogo sleeping peacefully. Kate Hoffower delivers a noteworthy, frightening performance as the twitching, wheezing almost inhuman servant, Lucky—who isn’t, really. Louisa Norman plays the loud, pompous Pozzo, and Kristen Springer the shy messenger. The other notable ‘character’ in the play is a headless woman who witnesses the time pass and seasons change; ‘she’ is the tree, a stunning piece of art designed by Amber Felker.

Roger Hedden is the current playwright in residence at the Montana Rep, and author of Bodies Rest and Motion with Eric Stoltz and Bridget Fonda. He saw This is Our Youth in New York, he says: “The next day, I called Greg [Johnson at the UM] and said, ‘This is a play you should do.’” The characters in This is Our Youth will be familiar to many audience members: young, apathetic rich kids with too much time and money on their hands. They do drugs. They do little else. A common reaction to the play, says Hedden, is “I know those guys.” The play’s theme reveals itself in one line when two characters are clumsily trying to partner dance, Hedden says. Warren says, “I guess like, whoever the genius was who decided you didn’t need steps should have come up with something else instead.” Like Didi and Gogo, they spend time trying to find that something else that will fill the void. Hedden explains: “During the Reagan years, [society] lost its sense of compassion.” People no longer believe that they need to take care of each other, or be their brothers’ keepers, says Hedden, but there isn’t anything else in place of what was lost.

As Dennis, Andrew Rizzo strikes the perfect balance between inner and outward control and chaos, between a street-smart hustler and a bewildered best friend who cannot comprehend why his pal questions his loyalty. Dennis wears cool like a cowboy wears chaps, the adult-sophistication, braggadocio and confidence bright on the surface and raw vulnerability shaded below. Rick Prigge plays Warren, the sentimental best friend—the loser, the incompetent, according to Dennis. Prigge portrays young man Warren as pilgrim, genuinely, awkwardly seeking meaning after the loss of his sister.

With the perfect hint of priss and thoughtfulness, Heidi Fisher plays the smart, sexy Jessica, the fashion queen, the ambassador of legs.

The arguments alone are worth the show: the juvenile jousting, dog-piling, insulting relationship between the two men; the disagreements between Jessica and Warren that escalate, then disintegrate; the one-sided yelling matches over the phone. Of course, the unexpected enters the rich-kid orbit and the characters are forced to take a break from their solipsistic existence if for only a moment.

Both plays will be performed in the UM’s Masquer Theatre. This is Our Youth started on Nov. 12 and runs through Saturday, Nov. 16. Waiting for Godot runs Tuesday, Nov. 19 through Saturday, Nov. 23. See our events calendar for show times and additional information.

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