Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Underpants Godot at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Duncan Pflaster's The Underpants Godot at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Underpants Godot
Written & Directed by Duncan Pflaster
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 8/18/15 at 7:00 p.m.

The underlying premise of this play is that while Samuel Beckett requires the main characters in Waiting For Godot to wear hats, boots, and "rags," that he does not necessarily dictate they have to wear clothes. As a result, this production, currently in rehearsal, will feature Estragon and Vladimir in tighty whities; Estragon naked in one scene; and Pozzo in red long-johns with an open butt flap. The Director also intends to explicitly interpret the play as having a gay theme with gay characters and plans to have Estragon and Vladimir kiss right after they embrace making the subtext into text that was never written or intended. It is implied he also wishes to bring out the master/slave BDSM dimension suggested in the relationship of Pozzo and Lucky. Enter Tara, a representative of the estate of Samuel Beckett, who has been alerted by an anonymous call to check out this production, who someone obviously felt was taking interpretation and adaptation far beyond the intent of the author. Tara takes the position that any new spin on Waiting For Godot must not be explicitly contradicted by the text and that even a "pantless" version could be authorized so long as it "serves and enlightens" the text. The problem with this is that anyone who has read or seen Waiting For Godot remembers there is an explicit reference to "trousers" in the very last lines of the play. This inconvenient truth reveals the anticipated ending just moments after the play begins, destroying any suspense that may have been intended.    

The characters in this play engage in preachy philosophical debates as to whether we should honor a playwright's words or his intent, and whether a script written decades ago needs to be updated and interpreted in order to remain relevant to modern audiences. Samuel Beckett, when alive, authorized an all-black version of Waiting For Godot in the Republic of South Africa even allowing Pozzo to be portrayed as a landowner, but he drew the line at having two women in the lead "because they don't have prostates" (and Vladimir is required, in the script, to leave the stage to pee). Another argument raised in favor of adaptation and interpretation is that many of the cultural references written into a play become outdated over time. Discussing Shakespeare, it is said only pompous elites like his work because they get all the obscure jokes and think themselves superior to the masses. But then again, the analogy between Shakespeare and Beckett is flawed because Shakespeare's work is in the public domain while Samuel Beckett's plays are not. You could argue that having Estragon and Vladimir in underpants serves the original intent of the playwright in the sense that, like with wearing rags, the two main characters are stripped down to their very essence. But on the other hand, having the main characters played by younger actors takes away the implied history both men have with each other. Still, I think having young actors play the parts could, under the right circumstances, bring a vibrancy and new perspective to the script. 

The star of the show is Alyssa Simon (www.alyssasimon.com), who played Tara, the representative of the executors of the Samuel Beckett estate. She is a very talented, charismatic actress who shined and brought life to this play whenever she appeared on stage. Her best line was after she "encouraged" the Director to strip down to his skivvies before stepping into the role of Estragon. He asked, "Satisfied?" to which she sarcastically responded, "Electrified!" The other standout performer was David J. Wiens (www.davidjwiens.com), who was extraordinary as Biff and Pozzo. Appearing with his red, long-john, union suit butt flap open, his cheery, cherry, cherubic ass stole the show. His character reminded the audience that as we go through life, "all of our metaphorical butt flaps are open," and while waiting to find out whether Tara was going to close down the show, and in direct contradiction to the line "nothing to be done," he said, "We have to take action to see what's happening to us. We don't just want to get fucked. We want to know the reason why!" Hilarious! 

Unfortunately, I felt the other actors in the cast fell short of being as entertaining. It is not that any of them are bad actors. It is just that I felt they were miscast for these roles. Pierce V. Lo and Roberto Alexander, who played Vladimir and Estragon respectively, had far too many distracting tattoos and body flaws, and all of Jason Pintar's energy (Kevin/Lucky) went into one monologue that flew by like a shooting star. Patrick Walsh, who played Doug the Director, was just annoying from the moment he appeared on stage to warn the audience about taking pictures to how he interacted with his fellow actors. Amber Rhabb on Tech kept the lights too low during the brief naked scenes and no one thought to mop the floor of the stage before this entry to The Secret Theatre's UNFringed Festival began. The advertising for this show featured attractive boys in briefs, but that is not what is presented in The Underpants Godot. I would bet that if any of these characters (other than Tara & Biff) wanted to jump into bed with a random audience member, that they would be kicked out even if they were willing to pay. Such is not the formula for performing a play that was allegedly intended to be homoerotic. In the end, all we got were boys standing in their underwear and gay characters throwing accusations and attitude at other cast members. 

The Underpants Godot was an interesting experiment and a vehicle to launch a discussion regarding the limits of acceptable interpretation and adaptation, but in the end, nothing was resolved and the issues were raised more in inserted monologues than through the unfolding story itself. That, combined with the concerns I already discussed, made this play a disappointment to me. The playwright didn't even have a press packet ready for those who might have come to review it. Despite it being the opening production on the opening night of the UNFringed Festival, Duncan Pflaster told me he hadn't expected any critics to attend the show. Mr. Pflaster, like Vladimir, might say in response, "Nothing to be done," but that is not quite true. Because as Vladimir reminds himself, "You have not yet tried everything." Duncan Pflaster needs to take this to heart. In my opinion, this play needs a re-write and better casting before it is ready for an extended run Off-Broadway or at some other local or community theater. For now, "shall we go?" I recommend against it.

In the summer of 2013, The First Annual UNFringed Festival brought bold and daring new works to The Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Now in its third year, there are many shows playing that are worthy of your consideration. For more information, visit http://www.secrettheatre.com/UNFRINGED.html 

2 comments:

  1. Spoiler alert!!! Shame on you. Some of us do not remember such things.

    I disagree with your review. It was a fascinating take on GODOT and I found Patrick's performance as director riveting. The rest of the cast was equal in their roles. It all came together in a thoroughly engaging evening.

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  2. Thanks for your review, sorry you weren't more entertained.
    I should say that I wasn't informed that you were coming, or I would have had a press packet prepared; the other reviewer that night went through our PR people, but you contacted the theater directly, and they didn't tell me we had an extra reviewer.

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