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Battle of the Becketts

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In 2009, 102 years after Samuel Beckett's birth, two productions of his classic "Waiting for Godot" will be launched simultaneously in New York and London. 

Variety reports that opening night for the Broadway version, starring Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin, will be April 30, the same day that Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart begin performances in the West End in London.

Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. The committee, which lauded Beckett for finding "elevation" in "the destitution of modern man" wrote of "Waiting for Godot":

By the end of the performance, as at the end of our own, we know nothing about this Godot. At the final curtain we have no intimation of the force whose progress we have witnessed. But we do know one thing, of which all the horror of this experience cannot deprive us: namely, our waiting. This is man's metaphysical predicament of perpetual, uncertain expectation, captured with true poetic simplicity: En attendant Godot, Waiting for Godot.

"Waiting for Godot," while being tragic (the horror of experience and all) is also comic, and on the surface the casting seems to reflect two different takes on the text. McKellen and Stewart are the weightier pair, with three Olivier Awards, one Tony Award, three Drama Desk Awards, dozens of Shakespeare roles and one knighthood between them. New York's duo, while also award-laden, seems big on the comedy: Nathan Lane is best known for his flamboyant roles, and co-star Bill Irwin was once a Ringling Brothers clown.

But Irwin has since become an accomplished dramatic actor -- he won the best actor Tony Award in 2005 for the role of George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," a wrenchingly serious play. And, although you might need to have watched "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to get the joke, Stewart doing a song-and-dance as Captain Picard for Gene Roddenberry's birthday is very funny (trust me). Maybe the best way to think about it is that London is going tragi-comic, and New York is going comic-tragic.

Is there anything left for us? If London and N.Y. each have one, will L.A. get its own Godot?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: top, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at Cannes in 2006; credit: Eric Charbonneau / WireImage. Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin in 2005; credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage

 
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This isn't Bill Irwin's first crack at Godot. He played Lucky against F. Murray Abraham's Pozzo in the 1988 Lincoln Center production with Robin Williams and Steve Martin as the two main characters.

I can't determine which would be more intolerable: the grave actors trying to be irreverent or the comic actors trying to be profound. Ah, Beckett, your plays become very Beckettian when performed nowadays.


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