'Waiting for Godot'


So much portentous meaning has been read into Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot" that it's a pleasure to be reminded by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart what an entertaining show it is.

The two "X-Men" adversaries are sublime stage actors, and they are wonderful in Sean Mathias' production of "Godot" at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket.

McKellen is Estragon, or Gogo, and Stewart is Vladimir, or Didi, in the tale of two ragamuffins who fill their idle days with conversation.

The play's puzzles and profundity do not require the pigeonholes of religion, homosexuality or existential despair to which it has been consigned since it was first performed in English in 1955. Beckett wrote it in French, doing his own translation for the play that debuted in 1956 in New York.

The two principals spend their time in a wasteland of rubble beside a crumbling brick wall and a dying willow tree waiting for the arrival of a savior named Godot who never comes.

McKellen plays Gogo as a doleful English northerner, lamenting that "we all are born mad, some remain so," and Stewart gives the ailing Didi a jaunty optimism, noting, "Habit is a great deadener."

Together, they make a terrific double act in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, as Beckett intended.

The cast makes the most of the play's wide-ranging musings on the fate of mankind, and while Beckett offers plenty of fuel for the imagination, it's also true that thanks to the splendid performers, the audience leaves with a smile.