Steve Vanderzee

A hunger for a new mythology

Defunkt's "The Udmurts" comes from somewhere over there, riding on horses and a sense of possibility

Once upon a time there was a place called Europe, a place called Russia, a place called the U.S.S.R., and finally, all the places that fell in between. Somewhere it happened that a great migration of people came over to the United States and brought with them their lanterns of culture. Defunkt and playwright David Zellnik dip into the warmth and adventure of this uprooting in their unlikely (of course, that’s how all fairytales begin) play The Udmurts.

The first things you should know are that the Udmurts are a people, and that horses may house spirits. Horses in their elegant frames have travelled with us across regions: in their large and fiery eyes, through millennia and breeding, hoof by hoof, they counter us. We test our freedom, in our companionship with horses, by aligning ourselves with these almost domesticated animals. It is in this wildness, the canter of it, where  Zellnik’s tale begins.

Syharath and Geesman, bonding in otherness. Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

Syharath and Geesman, bonding in otherness. Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

When wild people are settled in and grow older, their habitats seem unreal; they contain an uncomfortable ground. No one likes to sit with the dead. More than that, no one likes to sit with people who live between the living and the dead.

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Still waiting after all these years

Northwest Classical's "Godot" sits out Beckett's Big Questions vividly and with comic gusto

Gogo’s feet stink. Didi reeks of garlic. And, no, Godot never does show up. These are three unassailable facts about Samuel Beckett’s maybe and maybe not absurdist Waiting for Godot, which opened Friday night in an itchy and morosely funny revival from the Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative. Otherwise, the play’s so open to interpretation that actors and academics, after a drink or three, have been known to break out in fisticuffs over its meanings.

Is it a comedy or a tragedy? (Beckett called it, in its English version, a “tragicomedy”). Is it Christian, or existentialist, or something else? Is Godot really God, or simply an absence, or perhaps both? Is the play snarly, like Pinter, or sympathetic, like Wilder, or something entirely its own? Godot is a bare architecture, sparse and clean in the making, free-floating and yet fiercely rooted, and as it lacks particulars of time and place and even intention, it’s a play for all seasons. Lay over it what you will: you might be right.

Alder (left) and Byington: ever on alert. Photo: Northwest

Alder (left) and Byington: ever on alert. Photo: Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative

I happen to be of the baggy-pants school: I see in Godot ripples of the English music hall and American vaudeville and the great early movie comedians: Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Max Linder, and, closer to the time that Godot was written in 1949, Jean-Louis Barrault, the great sad mime from 1945’s Les Enfants du Paradis. As great clowns tend also to know the deepest hearts of innocence and tragedy, Godot for me is perhaps the most pristine of all stage comedies. That doesn’t mean it’s my favorite: the thing can seem a little overstated and pretentious, and it can drag on, depending on how it’s done. It does mean it’s a benchmark.

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