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'Waiting for Godot' Sells Out at N.Y. Lincoln Center

November 12, 1988|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Who'd ever have thought that the hottest ticket in New York would be "Waiting for Godot"?

It's not so much that the audience has caught up with playwright Samuel Beckett's nuclear-winter view of mankind. It's the fact that the "Godot" in question stars Steve Martin and Robin Williams.

Mike Nichols' production is running for only seven weeks at Lincoln Center, where it will be seen by 16,744 people: the exact number of seats available. To allocate the tickets for this one, they had to hold two lotteries, one for the public, one for the press.

The press has been pleased. Nobody has cried "gimmick." Everybody has remembered that the original 1956 Broadway production of "Godot" also starred a comic--Bert Lahr.

Variety's Richard Hummler: "Clowning of the highest degree of skill is what this production has in abundance. Williams and Martin may be new to legit, but they know volumes about comedy performance and their work here has relaxed assurance, beautiful timing and brilliant physical business."

Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press: "Williams' Estragon is a maniacal creature, verging out of control at times. He veers into some stage antics that Beckett would never have dreamed of--giving hilarious imitations of such cultural icons as R2D2 . . . "

Martin, as the other tramp, Vladimir, struck Kuchwara as less vital. But he admired the supporting players--Bill Irwin and F. Murray Abraham--for reminding the audience that "Godot" wasn't meant to be simply a bundle of laughs.

The New York Post's Clive Barnes: "Nichols is quite wonderful in timing the production, in collaborating with his actors to hit every precise button as it comes up." The results, Barnes said, were a trifle self-conscious, but "like Godot, worth waiting for."

Howard Kissell of the Daily News found it a "direct, accessible and entertaining production," in contrast to the austere approach that's more usual with Beckett's play. The downside was a loss of pathos.

Frank Rich of the New York Times frowned. The play's universality, he said, "does not suit a director whose gift is for comedy strongly rooted in contemporary social detail. Rather than expanding his artistic reach to meet Beckett's, Nichols contracts the play to fit his chilly esthetic."

"Godot" is playing at Lincoln Center's 299-seat downstairs theater. "Anything Goes" is still a hit upstairs, and two other Lincoln Center productions are running on Broadway: "Sarafina" and David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow." Not bad for a theater that stood dark for three years in the early '80s.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: From "Waiting for Godot"--"What did we do yesterday?" "In my opinion, we were here."

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