TORn staffer ImladrisRose was lucky enough recently to see the ‘Two Plays in Rep’ on Broadway, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart. Here’s her review:
New York City in December is nothing short of magical, and this year, for a limited time, you can see pure magic on the Broadway stage. No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot are two completely different plays, by two different writers, but with the exact same cast, at the historic Cort Theatre. Each performance runs subsequently one night after the other, and each show is a different experience.
The stellar cast just happens to include film and theatre legend Sir Ian McKellen (perhaps you have heard of him, he plays Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films and Magneto in the X-Men franchise), and film and television legend Sir Patrick Stewart (best know for playing Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor X in the X-Men franchise). These fantastic, cinematic greats are working together again on Broadway, and it is something that should be witnessed by every person who is able! There is a poignant line delivered by Patrick Steward in No Man’s Land that rings especially true: “You speak with the weight of experience behind you!” These two stage and screen masters certainly do.
No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett are both directed by Sean Mathias (an experienced and distinguished director, perhaps best know for his staging of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or for his film Bent). The plays offer two unique journeys which are rather, shall I say, unexpected! (Sorry, I had to!) The pacing in both shows is very different; No Man’s Land is drier and has a darker tone to it, while Waiting For Godot is quick-witted and cunning.
Waiting for Godot was the first of the two that I saw, and it was nothing short of a constant thrill. When the curtain rises, you see a stage set in a rather dismal environment, with a large, leafless tree in the foreground. Suddenly, Sir Ian McKellen rises from below a pile of rubbish, and the crowd erupts in cheers. His clothes are tattered and worn, and he wears a bowler hat atop his head. To say that I wasn’t immediately taken aback by his charisma and charm would be a lie. In Godot he plays the slightly dim-witted, yet entirely endearing Estragon. Patrick Stewart’s character, Vladimir, was the complete opposite of McKellen’s Estragon, which is one of the things which made this show the most entertaining performance I have ever seen on Broadway. Their banter and chemistry, (which is surely aided by the fact that they have been working together since the 1960s, when both were at The Royal Shakespeare Company), is unparalleled by any duo I have witnessed on stage or screen. McKellen’s pessimism and Stewart’s sarcasm create the perfect environment for Beckett’s brilliant dialogue to shine through. (This duo, both on and off stage, is perhaps the most beautiful and greatest BROMANCE of all time. This pair’s constant escapades and adventures around Manhattan brighten my day every time I see a new picture posted to the Internet! How can you NOT love them?)
McKellen and Stewart, fabulous as they are, would not be as brilliant in these plays if it were not for the two supporting actors. Billy Crudup plays Lucky in Godot and Foster in No Man’s Land. As Lucky, his character is abused and doesn’t speak for a great portion of the play, but when he does, it is something to behold! I saw Godot with one of my best friends, whom I know from studying filmmaking at NYFA; as filmmakers, we were both particularly blown away by Crudup’s ability to bring such life to a rather silent character, and how when the time came, he delivered one of the greatest monologues I have ever seen on stage or screen. The speed at which he delivered the very complex dialogue still blows my mind; a simply phenomenal performance. Shuler Hensley plays Pozzo in Godot and Briggs in No Man’s Land. His performance as Pozzo had me in stitches, and his subtlety as Briggs was equally wonderful. These two actors are truly stellar, and help to make these two plays what they are, fabulously entertaining and a must see experience.
This incredible supporting cast create the perfect setting for the amazing performances of the lead actors. In Godot, when Pozzo and Lucky leave for a time after putting on quite a spectacle, a moment of silence is followed by Stewart’s wry delivery of the line, “Well, that passed the time!”; this sent the crowd mad with laughter. Many such outbreaks of hilarity are caused by perfect deliveries of Beckett’s genius writing; at one point in Godot Estragon and Vladimir are particularly frazzled by the events of the day, prompting Estragon to suggest, “What if we repented?”
“Repented what?” Vladimir asks.
“Oh,” replies Estragon, “We wouldn’t have to go in to details!” Simply brilliant.
No Man’s Land is a very different piece from Godot. The stage is set in the parlor of an elaborate home, and the entirety of the show takes place in that one room. The dialogue is darker, and more empathy is created for the characters – in Godot you are so busy laughing that there is little time for much other emotion! No Man’s Land is very much Patrick Stewart’s show; his character develops the most and is the one who propels the story forward. Waiting for Godot is Ian McKellen’s show; his mark is felt the most on the stage, and he is the driving force of the play.
What if one has to choose between the two shows? I would strongly suggest seeing Waiting for Godot for two key reasons: Ian McKellen is beyond brilliant in it, and the show is hilarious. However, if you are fortunate enough to be able, I would highly recommend seeing both of these shows, if you are interested in any of the following: the actors, Broadway, phenomenal performances, or the chance to witness two incomparable acting legends performing together on stage in New York City. It really doesn’t get much better than that…
Oh wait, it does! The plays’ four stars meet and greet after performances, with fans outside the theatre at the stage door exit. I did not wait outside after Godot but I did after No Man’s Land, and I was lucky enough to meet ALL FOUR CAST MEMBERS, and even had my photo taken with none other than Sir Ian McKellen! So, if for no other reason, (and the brilliance of the plays is temptation enough!), as a fan of Middle-earth, go to see Ian McKellen; seeing him perform live two nights in a row, and then meeting him, was undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had…
The ‘Two Plays in Rep’ run on Broadway until March 2nd 2014; click here to read more about the shows, and to buy tickets.