70 years ago in The Villager



Volume 73, Number 24 | October 15 – 21, 2003

Becket Play at Chelsea’s Center Stage

Waiting for Godot

Thru Oct. 25

Center Stage

48 W. 21st Street

(212) 946-5008

In April of 1956 the following words appeared in a new weekly newspaper called The Village Voice: “So here we are with ‘Waiting for Godot’ . . . [T]he bandwagon has formed and it is rolling. I am aboard it, without shame . . . “

In fact the writer of those words, a fellow I happen to know personally, was but the second person at that venue to recognize a masterpiece when he encountered it. The first was a diffident young Brooklynite named Howard Fertig, who had wandered into the office to tell us about, and write about, “one of the strangest and most eloquent plays” he had ever seen, nine months earlier in London. And that London viewing was a full year after the world premier of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” on January 5, 1953, in French, under the direction of Roger Blin (who also played Pozzo) at the tiny ThÇÖtre de Babylone, in Paris.

Now we are 50 years along, and for the occasion a theater company called tangent, lower-case t, brings its own anniversary production of “Godot” to Center Stage, 48 West 21st Street, Oct. 8-25, under the direction of Keith Teller. The actors are Greg Skura as Vladimir, Michael Rhodes (Estragon), Paul Molnar (Pozzo), Jeff Bender (Lucky), and Noah Longo as the Boy, or Boys.

The Voice having been advised by Sam Rudy, a press rep who cares, that Michael Rhodes was the prime mover behind this production, one put the question direct to Mr. Rhodes, a slim, devilish-handsome, devil-bearded output of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who now makes his home in Greenwich Village.

“Oh yes,” Rhodes said, beaming: “Responsible — a great word. Yes, I am responsible for this venture into brilliance and madness.”

Not only that, Rhodes remarked, but his wife, the former Andrea Miller of LaGrangeville, N.Y., “has foolishly taken on the role of producer, and yes, we’re the tangent company and have the gray hair to prove it.” (They don’t.)

It is the fourth time that Rhodes and director Keith Teller and tangent have tackled this project.

“Twice in Poughkeepsie, where I’m from, once in Nancy, France, and once at Todo Con Nada on the Lower East Side, which then moved up to Aaron Beall’s Show World on Eighth Avenue, the very first play, I believe, that ever went in there.”

Rhodes played Estragon (memorialized by some of the Broadway regulars as “the Bert Lahr part”) in all four tangent productions — and now it’s all five.

The first time, as a tyro actor, back in 1989, that he auditioned for Keith Teller at the Mid-Hudson Arts & Science Center, Rhodes “had no idea what I was doing. I had never read the play. I picked up a copy, read three pages, couldn’t make head or tails of it. And I got the part. I think when Samuel Beckett heard we were doing this, in December 1989, he kicked the bucket.

“But we had a very long rehearsal — eight weeks — and that started an obsession. It’s funny,” says Rhodes, not really meaning funny, “every time we do it we say we never want to do it again — and a couple of years later the itch begins again.

“There are so many levels going on in ‘Godot.’ It’s wickedly funny, and then turns on a dime and is so tragic. Every time we do it, new facets turn up.”

Michael Rhodes, born April 29, 1965, came late to acting, he says. “I thought I wanted to be a film director, and ended up working in a lumber yard. Only in the late ‘80s did I get to acting, and found I liked it a lot. Something I was good at — finally.”

It was winning the part of The Boy in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” — quite a different Boy from the one, or ones, in “Godot” — that brought Rhodes to New York City in 1994.

“I saw the influence of Beckett on Albee, I could hear the influence, and was struck at the time by the horrible corollary to grunge music. Just the sense of melancholy. How these characters could relate to younger audiences — kids just waiting for something, anything, to come along and rescue them from their trapped existences. And what to do in the meantime to keep heads above water?”

Michael Rhodes is the son of Kenneth Rhodes, a retired fireman “who also sold appliances to keep bread on the table and a roof over our heads.” Michael’s mother, Patricia Clancy Rhodes, works in the office of the Duchess County Association of Retarded Citizens.

Samuel Beckett would understand that. So would Lucky, Pozzo’s slave:. . . in a word for reasons unknown in Peckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell fades away I resume . . .

Well, as Howard Fertig once wrote, “The two tramps are again alone and go on waiting, talking, and hoping as before. That is all. That is the play. And, as E.M. Foster once said, ‘Moby Dick’ is about a whale.”

And then some

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