Preparing actors for a production of “Waiting for Godot” is less about character study and more about jamming together, says director Judy Hegarty Lovett. “They need to create the right bounce with each other, almost in a musical way.”
Hegarty Lovett’s company, the Gare St Lazare Players Ireland, presents its production of Samuel Beckett’s masterful drama at the Paramount Center Mainstage from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10 as part of the ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage series. Her husband, actor and fellow Gare St Lazare artistic director Conor Lovett, who plays Vladimir in “Godot,” agrees with her approach. “There’s a wonderful musicality to Beckett’s writing,” he says. “You find yourself moving, tensing and releasing along with the dialogue.”
The play is the profoundly influential 60-year-old tragicomedy that follows Vladimir and Estragon, two men who wait endlessly for someone named Godot. The pair pass the time with endless banter, including jokes, arguments, songs — whatever it takes to keep “silence at bay.” Their tedium is interrupted by the arrival of Pozzo and his slave, Lucky, who are passing through and stop to rest for a few minutes. Once they are gone, however, Vladimir and Estragon return to their bits of entertainment and distraction as they cling to the hope of Godot’s imminent arrival.
“Balance is the most important aspect of this play, and something we work on constantly,” Hegarty Lovett says. “Every single aspect of this production demands that balance: between comedy and tragedy, between day and night, between power and submission, between dream and reality, between certainty and uncertainty.”
Beckett, says Lovett, “gives you the possibility to chase down one particular avenue, but you can just as easily work on the mirror image of that.”
That sense of balance, Lovett says, also creates a graceful sense of movement. “There’s a huge amount of choreography written into the play,” says Lovett.
Gare St Lazare’s production of “Godot” premiered in Dublin this month, and comes to Boston after performances in Belfast. ArtsEmerson executive director Robert J. Orchard says when he heard Gare St Lazare was interested in mounting a production of “Waiting for Godot,” he was eager to be involved.
“It’s the 60th anniversary, and a play everyone should see,” says Orchard, “but I also wanted to hear Beckett’s language coming from an Irish voice. There’s a clarity and character to a brogue, and a plaintiveness and playfulness to its sound. I know Beckett wrote this in French and spent most of his adult life in France, but I think those deep Irish roots will come through in the sound of these voices.”
The Lovetts, who spoke via Skype from Ireland, have developed a deep connection to Beckett and to the exploration of characters over the past two decades.
“When we started, we just thought it was a good idea to do a one-man show and I was a big Beckett fan,” Lovett says. “We chose ‘Molloy,’ [a novel made up of two interior monologues], and enjoyed doing it so much we just kept going on.”
The couple has presented many of Beckett’s prose texts and all of his radio plays, often as one-man shows that Lovett performs. Lovett’s tour de force solo skills were on display in Boston in 2011 when he performed Gare St Lazare’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” at ArtsEmerson.
But Lovett says it’s exciting to return to ensemble acting, particularly with Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”
“It’s a lot less quiet up there,” Lovett says with a laugh. “And I love the opportunity to jam off other actors’ energy. But I think that having the experience of a lone actor onstage addressing the audience is something we can use.”
Beckett was very conscious of the audience and refers to them in the stage directions, Hegarty Lovett says. Vladimir asks Estragon to “hold his seat” while he goes off to relieve himself, “end of the hall on the right.”
“We know we’re in a theater, and we know on a certain level, that this is a performance,” she says. “The audience is an integral part of the action.”
Although tackling “Waiting for Godot,” a play that is lauded as one of the greatest of the 20th century, might be intimidating for some, Hegarty Lovett says its simplicity, humor, and compassion are what make it so inviting. Part of the joy of mounting Beckett’s work, she says, is making him accessible to a wider audience.
“He’s so specific, that actors can focus less on character analysis and more on making the delivery of the language very personal,” she says. “When that happens, the audience connects.”Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.