It’s been 60 years since Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot premiered. And now Emory students are putting a new spin on the famous “tragicomedy.”
College senior Jake Krakovsky and Oglethorpe alum Seth Langer have dreamed of putting on their favorite play for years. As part of a project for the Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) program, they’ve finally succeeded with the creation of a new troupe this summer, with its first run at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy on Thursday, July 25. Krakovsky and Langer, who have collaborated artistically through high school and college, created two theatrical alter egos, Fulham and Clapham, to start producing plays together.
This existentialist play follows two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, as they wait for a man named Godot to appear. Although they know they’re waiting for Godot, they can’t quite remember why. They also aren’t sure where or when they were supposed to meet him.
Krakovsky and Langer have a unique take on the two-act show, highlighting the clownish and comedic aspects of the characters and script.
“It’s kind of a grotesque ballet,” Krakovsky said. “It’s highly choreographed and highly cartoonish.”
Krakovsky means that literally. The team drew from a vast variety of sources and inspirations, including Looney Tunes, Albert Camus, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Marx Brothers. These influences are incredibly apparent in the sometimes goofy acting and interpretation of the script.
Krakovsky’s Vladimir is neurotically animated and moves around the stage with sudden, earnest actions, providing a perfect counterpart to Langer’s gruff and comically sulky Estragon.
For a fairly dark play, Fulham and Clapham’s interpretation elicits lots of laughter from the audience. The actors’ exaggerated slapstick and vaudeville clowning choices create plenty of prolonged, awkward humor. This is especially apparent during moments where Estragon and Vladimir are trying in vain to find an activity to pass the time, including juggling turnips, doing weird exercise routines and bickering with each other like an unhappily married couple.
Even the casting decisions further a comedic atmosphere. Traditionally, the role of “Boy” in the play is performed by an actual child. But Krakovsky and Langer decided to go in a different direction. In Fulham and Clapham’s rendition of this masterpiece, “Boy” is played by fully grown Mark Johnson (‘13C), who completes the role with a screeching falsetto voice. Johnson mirrors a child who has no earthly clue what is going on around him. He never makes eye contact with either of the characters, perpetuating the haunting idea that his inability to see them reflects their nonexistence.
Interspersed with the physical humor are some intensely dramatic moments that bring out themes of existentialism and oppression, like a scene that includes Tim Harland (‘13C) who plays Pozzo’s servant Lucky, performing a monologue impressive in both its length and agitated passion. Harland’s role is particularly challenging, as he spends the majority of the play hunched over, laden with bags, not saying a word. Pozzo, played by Atlantan Ryan Heazel, assures the tramps that Lucky can dance for their entertainment if they like.
The boys would rather Lucky “think” for them. Pozzo puts on Lucky’s thinking cap and the servant launches into an incredibly epic monologue. The physical choices Langer and Krakovsky make during this scene are particularly interesting. They begin by acting incredibly agitated with Lucky’s monologue and continue to launch into a full blown assault, which begins as a mime and quickly turns into an actual physical assault of Harland. The beauty of this scene lies in its ambiguity. Is it a fight, is it a dance? Is it both?
The physical interactions between cast members entertain as much as the often-absurdist script. Krakovsky and Langer move together like one, which isn’t too surprising, since the two have been best friends for almost 15 years.
Both took the class “Developing a Role” with Tim McDonough, chair of Emory Theater Studies. Langer, who cross-enrolled for this as well as other Emory theater courses, and Krakovsky spent four months working on Godot‘s Estragon and Vladimir, respectively.
“Ever since we took that class, we wanted to put it up for real,” Krakovsky said. “We figured that if we wanted to make the kind of theater that interests us, we can’t wait around — we have to make it happen.”
The pair rounded up a cast and crew of Emory students and recent grads to perform this summer, first at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy in July and now at Fabrefaction.
Both members of the team studied abroad in Italy at the Accademia dell’Arte focusing on physical theater, and they have applied what they learned to Godot.
“We wanted to make it a very physical production,” Krakovsky said. “The energy of the play is about how we relate to the confusing, empty world that we’re stuck in, and we wanted to find a way to make the waiting active and animated.”
Krakovsky and Langer read Godot for the first time in high school, and they both fell in love with the rich, dark themes of absurdist philosophy and black humor.
“We always want to remember that this is both a tragedy and a comedy,” Krakovsky said. “I think we’d be failing the play if we forgot about either of those.”
Fulham and Clapham Present: Waiting for Godot will run Thursday, Aug. 8 to Sunday, Aug. 11 at Fabrefaction (999 Brady Avenue). All shows begin at 7:30 p.m., with $5 tickets at the door.
— By Sonam Vashi
Photo by Parker Smith