Recently I visited New York and had the amazing experience of seeing Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup, and Schuler Hensley in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The play, directed by Sean Mathias who also directed the London production in 2009, was excellent. It was fantastic. The acting and direction was superb. The design elements worked so well that I truly believe the crashing of offstage was Lucky tripping and falling with all his bags. The show had life and didn’t subscribe to many of the pitfalls of doing Godot. It wasn’t over sentimentalized, and the actors often broke away from the natural rhythm that Beckett wrote into the play, but they are not what I am here to talk about.
The Cort Theatre’s production of Waiting for Godot is a great example of the biggest trend on Broadway right now. In an effort to get more butts in the seats Broadway theaters are only staging shows with big name actors in them. I’m not talking about big name stage actors, but shows that pull in film actors. Now I understand the methodology, straight plays are much harder to sell than musicals and theatergoers are dying out. Broadway is becoming more and more an extension of Hollywood. Just this month there is a production of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, a production of Betrayal starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, and let us not forget the production of Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman with tickets going for $300 a pop. I have long crusaded against this growing trend in our theaters. Shouldn’t regular actors be good enough? Why is it that Scarlett Johansen is given the role of Maggie the Cat, when she could be played more skillfully by most likely 1000 other actresses in New York City. I harangued against theaters that put up productions that seemed less focused on the play and more focused on the actors. Plays that put the names of the actors at a more important spot on the poster than the play or the playwright.
And every time that I had gotten up on my soapbox about this or that production all came back to me as I sat down in my seat with my $14 glass of wine (and it was awful wine). I had done it. I had gone to see a play because I wanted to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. I wanted to see Dr. Xavier and Magneto duke it out onstage. Of course, Godot is one of my favorite plays of all time, but I don’t think I would have driven four hours both ways if it weren’t for the all star cast. So I was a hypocrite. Fine. This was a production of my favorite play done by two of the most amazing actors of our time. They were actors who had their artistic foundation in repertory theatre. Who cares that they were famous? They understood Beckett’s text better than I think anyone else I’ve ever seen perform it. So, maybe famous actors in stage plays isn’t that bad of an idea. If they’re the right actors for the roles, then they should be playing those roles.