WAITING FOR GODOT

Godot

 

WAITING FOR GODOT

 

Riverbank Theatre Ensemble

Namba Performing Arts Space

47 S Oak, Ventura, CA

Playing thru April 9, 2016

 

 

Years before Bert & Ernie were bouncing around their Sesame Street apartment, long before Jay & Silent Bob started loitering in front of the Quik Stop selling weed, there was Vladimir and Estragon. These two wrote the book on hanging around, waiting for someone named Godot, occupying themselves and each other during the slow passage of time that is not unlike life itself.

 

Riverbank Theatre Ensemble’s new production of Samuel Beckett’s infamous, irreverent “Waiting for Godot” succeeds in showing audiences just how much can be done with so little. From a minimal set comprised of little more than a ladder, a couple saw horses and some wood planks, the duo and their two comical visitors make mountains out of the molehills they’ve been given.

 

The crucial ingredient in Beckett’s show is each actor’s physical dexterity and broad range of voice and facial expression to keep audiences interested. Nigel Chisholm (Vladimir) and Ron Feltner (Estragon) make the most of their space, their set, and each and every word. Everything is exaggerated, from stomping feet to Chisholm and Feltner’s seemingly rubber limbs. Rag-tag costumes and set pieces suggest that these two are workmen sent to do a job of some sort, but very little actual work is getting done around here. Instead, Vladimir and Estragon are content to twirl around their surroundings like a set of monkey bars, giving weight to the most nonsensical topic as if each might lead to a solution for world peace.

 

And what does one really need to endure for a lifetime, anyway? Little more than a place to be, and someone to be there with. OK, maybe something to eat, and even then these two turn that into a game. And when one suggests that they might go their separate ways, the audience is struck with remorse. The threat turns out to be an empty one because, after all, what would Bert be without Ernie or Jay without Bob?

 

And just when the wait seems tumultuous, in walks Pozzo (Byron Hays) with his traveling companion Lucky (Christopher T. Wood). Hays’ Pozzo is like a demented Richard Branson, barking orders in a German accent, espousing his theories on life. Lucky is initially a source of curiosity for Vladimir & Estragon, as he appears to be an enslaved deaf-mute. But when Lucky puts on his special hat, what spills forth is a stream of intellect not unlike the Scarecrow getting his diploma from the Wizard of Oz.

 

“Waiting for Godot” doesn’t require elaborate sets or broad production values. Good actors can make a whole lot of something out of nothing – and here, that something turns out to be a pretty good show.

 

 

Waiting for Godot

Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, 8pm

Thru April 9, 2016

Namba Performing Arts Space

47 S Oak St, Ventura, CA

Tickets: 805-628-9250 or online at:

http://rtegodot.brownpapertickets.com/

$20 adult

 

 

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THE WIZARD OF OZ

Oz 1

 

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Currently Playing thru April 10, 2016

 

 

Most Americans grew up with L. Frank Baum’s classic story, first as a theatrical release, then an annual televised event, followed by retold versions such as ‘The Wiz’ and the newer adaptation ‘Wicked.’ Now under the meticulous direction of Devery Holmes, local audiences have the opportunity to see Baum’s timeless tale come to life – complete with all the endearing nuances of live theatre.

 

The Players’ Dorothy is 16 year-old Quinn Martin, fresh from a stint on Nickelodeon TV, paired with her dog Toto (the Lovelle family’s amazingly well-trained Maltese Tilly), who hits all her entrances, exits, and even steals hot dogs on cue. Lesser performers might feel upstaged by such a well-trained animal, but Tilly merely compliments Holmes’ stellar cast. Jared Price gives a nimble Tinman and David Colville’s ever-blustery Cowardly Lion bounds and goofs his way across set designer Dick Johnson’s elaborately planned stage.

Oz 2

In such an ambitious production, it would be easy to lose smaller details, a cue here or an actor’s voice there, but sound designer Tim Reese has the cast miked and well-balanced, easily heard even from a back row. When the twister strikes and carries Dorothy to Oz, an effective projection screen creates a dizzying effect as Reese fills in the crashes and booms of a violent storm. Even when the Tin Man’s creaky limbs break free with the help of his trusty oil can, we hear it at just the right pitch.

 

Much to its staff’s credit, the Players’ ‘Wizard’ strikes the right balance between electronic gadgetry and traditional theatre. When the gang finally get in to see the Wizard (Ray Mastrovito), rather than simply projecting The Wizard’s image onto a screen, a set piece that looks suspiciously like Mastrovito is rolled out under dramatic lighting effect. Bellowing and blowing steam, the theatre experience is brought to the audience, rather than simply projecting what they could’ve stayed home and downloaded on Netflix.

 

Opening night audiences were treated to a particular version of the peculiarities of live theatre. Early in the first act, when Dorothy released the Scarecrow (Daniel Egan) from his perch, the Scarecrow performed a series of rubber-limbed moves. When the sold out audience adjourned to the patio during intermission, they watched an ambulance carry away a young man who looked very much like the limber and talented Scarecrow. Egan had thrown himself into his role, literally, and was headed toward the hospital. Without missing a beat, ensemble member Kyle Johnson stepped into the role for the second act so smoothly that, if not for the book in his hand, audiences might never have known they weren’t watching the same Scarecrow. ‘The show must go on,’ and it did so perfectly. In true theatrical fashion, Egan performed the rest of the weekend’s shows.

 

Musical directors Jim Holmes and Shelley Saxer keep the show’s score moving, and even loan out one of their musicians (Jennifer Bliman) who sets down her French horn long enough to perform backflips across the stage. Lighting director Jim Diderrich provides the infamous yellow brick road, and when the Wicked Witch (Kurt Raymond) throws a ball of flame at the scarecrow, it’s done by a clever special effects touch from effects wizard Mastrovito. Smaller touches are abundant, such as hair & make-up designer Christopher Mahr’s vision to don the Cowardly Lion’s hairdresser (Claire Harvey) in flowing, curly red locks that mirror her client’s. These little touches make the Players’ version of ‘Oz’ a unique theatrical experience.

 

One of the best reasons to see the stage production arrives during the second act: here you’ll have the chance to see and hear ‘The Jitterbug,’ the ‘lost’ song left out of the original film (you can find Judy Garland and the gang dancing thru it on YouTube). The number remains in the Players’ version, and provides Martin a showcase for some of her most adept moves. Additionally, the Scarecrow’s song is nicely extended to include three silly-dressed crows (Kyle Johnson, Andrew Nunez and Lauren Rachel) similar to those found in ‘The Wiz,’ who provide harmony and hilariously well-timed caws.

 

Like most stage productions, there will always be little differences between the live show and the version audiences have grown to love and memorize. And that’s most of the fun.

 

 

The Wizard of Oz

Thru April 10, 2016

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:

http://www.conejoplayers.org

Tickets: $20 adult, $18 senior/student/military

Photos: Conejo Players