THE BASICS: GODOT RODEO, six new one-act plays inspired by Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT, written by Buffalo playwrights Matt Boyle, Frank Canino, John Elston, Mark Lloyd, and Mike Fanelli starring John Profeta, Leon Copeland, Brittany Germano, Michael Leszczynski, Randy Rumley, Becky Globus, Frank Canino, Thomas Malzan, Jon Elston and Darryl Hart continues for only two more performances, Saturday, June 24 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, June 25 at 2:00 p.m. at Rust Belt Books, 415 Grant Street, Buffalo NY 14213 (two blocks south of Buffalo State College). www.rustbeltbooks.com (716) 885-9535. On Facebook like “buffalo writers’ theater” Admission $10. Runtime a little over an hour, one intermission (a chance to browse the bookstore).
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Billed as “Lassoing Beckett’s Waiting for Godot In 6 Riffs” these six short comedic sketches mostly incorporate the now iconic trappings of two players who wear bowler hats and speak in short sentences on a stage mostly bare except for a tree without leaves. Wherever you are on the love/hate scale regarding Samuel Beckett’s plays (e.g. ENDGAME, WAITING FOR GODOT, KRAPP’S LAST TAPE) you are not alone, the playwrights share your joy or pain, or both, and each plays stands on its own, although you will find them funnier if you have sat through at least one performance of GODOT.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Rust Belt Books moved from Allen Street several years ago and the back room/theater space at 415 Grant is larger, better lit, and with the backdoor open and the skylights opened, surprisingly comfortable even on a hot, muggy day.
So what is Buffalo Writers’ Theater?
So what is Buffalo Writers’ Theater? In the program Michael Fanelli writes: “Buffalo is blessed with many fine theaters and gifted playwrights. Unfortunately, the playwrighting community has not blossomed as it should to offer a viable alternative to ‘off the shelf’ plays. We write stuff, submit it, and hope some artistic director will notice and value it enough to produce it. With a few notable exceptions, the exercise seems futile.
There are things playwrights can do which are more productive than checking one’s email five times a day.
“There are things playwrights can do which are more productive than checking one’s email five times a day. We can build a community, improve our art and craft through interaction, and, by gum, put on our own plays. We are blessed with so many talented actors in this town, we would be fools if we didn’t challenge them with exhilarating new dramatic forms.”
My personal journey with WAITING FOR GODOT consists of participating in a read-through at a summer enrichment program for high schoolers (I didn’t like it); reading it at college (I didn’t get it), and then finally seeing it on “The Third Stage” (now the “Tom Patterson Theatre”) at the Stratford Festival starring Brian Bedford as Vladimir. As so often happens to me at Stratford, whether it’s Chekhov or Shakespeare or Beckett, my thought that night was: “This play is so obvious… so simple… so direct…. whatever was my problem?”
Of course, the experience was not unlike watching an episode of the television show SEINFELD. It all made sense at the time, but the next morning, just try explaining it to someone.
Here are the six plays in the GODOT RODEO, in presentation order:
WAITING FOR DOMINO’S by Matt Boyle, directed by Michael Fanelli, with John Profeta as Stan and Leon Copeland as Mike just completely tickled that thing inside my brain which loves connecting the dots in life. You know that feeling of joy when you see an internet meme that is “just right?” This play gave me that feeling. It combines the endless waiting of Beckett’s play with the idea of Domino’s Pizza being “free” if the wait for delivery is over thirty minutes, along with the interminable waiting for the Buffalo Bills football team to win a Superbowl, despite the unprecedented and still unique four consecutive trips, and the fact that, no matter how many times you replay it, the famous 20-19 loss to the N.Y. Giants in 1991 at Superbowl XXV always ends with the 47-yard field goal going…. wait for it…. “wide right.”
BISONHEAD, written and directed by Michael Fanelli, presents us with a decapitated Bison (not gory, just absurdist) and a dialog between the separated head (Darryl Hart) and body (John Profeta). The most Beckett-like quality, to me, was the setting up of, followed by the attempt to reconcile, the mind-body duality. Yes, it all sounds very philosophical, and I can’t explain it, but I can tell you that it was funny.
I really loved I HATE SAM BECKETT! Written, directed, and presented by Frank Canino this is honestly just a one-man presentation with some old-school visual aids, some voluntary audience participatory reading (Canino handed out 3×5 cards with Beckett lines), and a whole lot of charm. It was a very engaging personal history with the plays of Samuel Beckett, starting with disaster and befuddlement and ending with triumph. I saw a connection to a quote in the program by Frank Beckett in a letter to his brother Samuel: “Why can’t you write the way people want?”
WAITING FOR WHO? Written and directed by Mark Lloyd with Michael Leszczynski as Samuel, Randy Rumley as Beckett, and Thomas Malzan as the interrupting “Back-Stage Man” this was , to me, the weakest of the plays and seemed too full of insider jokes.
ZHDUN written and directed by Jon Elston who also narrated featured a puppeteer’s stage (complete with miniature leafless willow) and a 12-inch replica of a sculpture named Zhdun which, according to a Newsweek story and a Public Radio International report, has become a very popular internet meme in Russia on the theme of “waiting.”
This was very cleverly produced and used multi-media synched with live reading. As old school as I HATE SAM BECKETT! was, this was the most “tech savvy” play of the six and yet both were equally captivating.
And, addressing issues of gender equality, HIM, written, directed, and using “Wonder Woman” puppets created by Michael Fanelli, “Valentina” was voiced and manipulated by Becky Globus and “Esther” by Brittany Germano (referring to Vladimir and Estragon, the two principals in Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT). One of the themes here was that if we are waiting, why does it have to be a “him” (or even a “Him”) upon whom we wait? Couldn’t it be a “her” or “Her?” Again, the program notes were not specific to any one play, but I got a kick out of this paragraph concerning WAITING FOR GODOT: “Beckett was not open to most interpretative approaches to his work. He famously objected when, in the 1980s, several women’s acting companies began to stage the play. ‘Women don’t have prostates,’ said Beckett, a reference to the fact that Vladimir frequently has to leave the stage to urinate.”
I can’t report on the quantity of rest rooms at Rust Belt Books, but with the whole show running over just an hour, even those with prostate hyperplasia should do just fine.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!