Something like a FEMA-nomenon:
A Review Classical Theatre of Harlem's Katrina Godot

by Tony Phillips

From Beyonce Knowles scathing presidential command performance of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” last year while New Orleans was still bailing out to Stephen Colbert’s more recent excoriation of George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the timeline of artists sticking it to the man post-Katrina has heretofore been very D.C.-based. So it’s nice to see New York put itself on the map with The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s sublime, six feet high and rising production of Samuel Beckett’s existentialist masterpiece Waiting for Godot.

The play can essentially be summarized by this early exchange between the stranded Vladimir, fleshed out by the robust Wendell Pierce, and Estragon, his slicker compadre played ably by J. Kyle Manzay:

Estragon: Let’s go.

Vladimir: Can’t.

Estragon: Why not?

Vladimir: We’re waiting for Godot.

The wrinkle here — and we’ve come to expect wrinkles from this first rate company who’ve given us everything from a meta-theatrical The Blacks to the sexy circo of Caligula — is that this stunning production under the assured direction of Christopher McElroen takes place in a waist-deep pool of dirty water.

It’s a brilliant conceit, wonderfully realized by set designer Troy Hourie, who places our woe begotten pair on an unmistakable tar paper roof, and no doubt one that wasn’t foremost in Beckett’s mind when he wrote Godot in the late-1940s. But it works beautifully. Sure, Godot as FEMA will probably piss off purists as this production careens through a variety of styles — from vaudeville to double-time hip hop — but what the hell is a Beckett purist anyway?

The Classical Theatre of Harlem has figured out a way to wish the Irish playwright a very happy centenary and also blow the President a big, sloppy Marilyn birthday kiss at the same time. We can only hope, like our doomed heroes, they take it on the road. Washington really needs to wait on this Godot.