I waited for Godot. Unfortunately, a chunk of the audience did not.
Granted, I was attending the final dress rehearsal, which was sponsored by Free Fall Baltimore, in which ticket holders were admitted for no charge. Audience members had no financial stake in the production, so when it didn't meet their expectations for entertainment, they voted with their feet.
It isn't that this performance of Waiting for Godot is awful; it's not. The four main performances (by J.G. Heck, J-F Bibeau, Praem J. Phulwani and D. Grant Cloyd) were competent. It's just that this production failed to offer a compelling reason for people to remain in their seats until 10:30 p.m. on a work night.
Run of the Mill Theatre could be considered one of Charm City's semiprofessional troupes, along with Single Carrot Theatre and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. These troupes generally avoid the more egregious overacting and mannered performances that can be found in amateur theatricals. But they also rarely provide the complex, nuanced portraits delivered by the pros.
That's a shame. Samuel Beckett's absurdist masterwork is one of the most gorgeous pieces for the theater ever written, and at times, the power of the language drew me in, despite my reservations.
Two tramps Didi (Cloyd) and Gogo (Phulwani) wait on a barren plain for a meeting with the mysterious "Mr. Godot," who never arrives. Their monotony is interrupted by two travelers: Pozzo (Heck) and his slave, Lucky (Bibeau).
In the way that Godot is about nothing, it anticipates such comedians as Jerry Seinfeld. But that "nothing" is as teeming with reflected life as a raindrop. The play is a meditation on religion, capitalism, death, reason versus intuition and the rewards and terrors of an enduring relationship.
The set is famously minimalist: a seemingly dead tree with a few leaves. Here, the "tree" is a pole topped with several small wooden tables painted white. The stage also is strewn with piles of "leaves," that is, pages of printed text. These things, of course, are all variations of the same material - wood - and the design emphasizes their relationship.
A play this stylized would challenge the most experienced actors; perhaps that inhibited convincing performances. Cloyd never seemed comfortable with the stiff-legged tottering required of his character, while Phulwani had too many stagey grunts. Particularly in the beginning, the pace dragged; Gogo's problems removing his tight boots go on forever.
In more ways than one, I'm still waiting for Godot.
IF YOU GO
Waiting for Godot runs at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., through Sunday. Show times are 8 p.m. today through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. $10-$20. 410-752-8558 or theatreproject.org.