Vartin af Godot (Waiting for Godot) ***** By: Paulanne Simmons
Waiting for Godot was written in French by an Irishman who later translated it into English. So it may come as some surprise that Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play about waiting for a savior who never comes is really about two old Jewish men. Yet that is exactly what most people will believe after seeing New Yiddish Rep’s Vartin af Godot.
With a Yiddish translation by Shane Baker (there are supertitles in English) and direction by Moshe Yassur, Vartin af Godot premiered at the Castillo Theatre on Sept. 22 and is now having a three-week run as part of the 2014 Origin’s 1st Irish Festival. The cast is intact, with one exception; Allen Rickman has replaced Avi Hoffman as Pozzo. And even if you’ve seen more Waiting for Godot’s than you care to count, this one is not to be missed.
A brief contemplation on the history and nature of Yiddish is all that’s necessary to understand why it is the perfect language for a play about humor in despair. Yiddish is the language of exiles. Although it has no home, it made itself at home wherever it settled. It adapted to new environments. It picked up a word here and there. It survived.
As Leo Rosten writes in The Joys of Yiddish, "Yiddish lends itself to an extraordinary range of observational nuances and psychological subtleties. Steeped in sentiment, it is sluiced with sarcasm. It loves the ruminative, because it rests on a rueful past; favors paradox, because it knows that only paradox can do justice to the injustices of life; adores irony, because the only way the Jews could retain their sanity was to view a dreadful world with sardonic, astringent eyes."
From the opening scene, when Estragon tries to take off his ill-fitting boot, to the last scene, when Estragon and Vladimir decide they will go but don’t move, it is obvious that Yiddish is the quintessential language for these two miserable wanderers who cannot flourish but refuse to die.
If the originality and aptness of a Yiddish translation is not enough to recommend Vartin af Godot, the production also has a superb cast. Rickman is in fine form as the pompous, yet pitiful Pozzo. And Baker, as Vladimir, proves that he can translate not only on paper but also onstage. David Mandelbaum, who is the artistic director of Yiddish Rep, happily took time off from administrative duties to play the long-suffering Estragon. He has captured both the essence of Yiddish humor and existential despair.
Although Lucky (Rafael Goldwaser) and Boy (Nicholas Jenkins) are small parts, Goldwaser and Jenkins make important contributions, Goldwaser in his excellent physicality and his magnificent tirade of "thinking" and Jenkins in his sweet innocence.
Take a piece of good advice. Don’t miss this show
Vartin af Godot runs through Sept. 21at The Barrow Street Theatre in New York City 212 243-6262
For tickets call SmartTix (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.