by: JK Clarke 

It seems like it would be difficult to take the absurdist, existentialist elements of Samuel Beckett’s mid-century masterpiece Waiting for Godot to a new level, but somehow, Waiting for Waiting for Godot (now playing at the Kraine theater through the remainder of the weekend as part of the NY Fringe Festival) manages to do just that.

Despite the farcical elements suggested by the title, Waiting for Waiting for Godot is actually quite contemplative. We are first introduced to Ester (Chris Sullivan) as he noisily struggles to button his vest, the centerpiece to his costume as Estragon, in echoes of the original piece, in which the character attempts to remove a boot. He and Val (Dave Hanson, who also wrote the play) are lonely understudies, waiting backstage for their chance at the spotlight in a production of Waiting for Godot. It seems they have been waiting a very, very long time — so long, in fact, they mistake the stage manager (Amy Weaver) for the director, whom they seemingly have never met; she is their Godot.

While the play’s central themes are not terribly far afield from the original, but substituting in the “inside baseball” of the theater world, what sets the play apart is the acting (which isn’t hurt at all by Hanson’s clever and flowing dialog). Sullivan (who, notably, voices the excited camel in a popular Geico “hump day” commercial currently airing), embodies a gruff yet vulnerable Ester who longs to “make it” in the theatrical world, but is too trepidatious and simultaneously dedicated to his understudy role to step out and attempt to procure his own agent. And Hanson’s Val continues the tradition of Beckett’s original characters, harkening the comic duo Laurel and Hardy.  Val is unmistakably Stan Laurel, one of the great straight men of all time. His subtle glances and manipulations of his iconic bowler hat are a beautiful tribute. Val’s naïveté and innocence ensure his survival, if not success; and Hanson plays it smoothly.

Like the eponymous source, Waiting for Waiting for Godot is full of comic moments in a milieu of dread and uncertainty. But rising out of their long vigil — like finally being summoned after an interminable stay in a doctor’s waiting room — is a glimmer of hope which, regardless of its possible futility, is what make these men who they are: heartbreaking stoics.

Waiting For Waiting For Godot. Directed by Alex Harvey. A NYC Fringe Festival show. Through August 25 at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street (@ Second Avenue). www.WFWFGodot.com

Photo:NYTimes-Jill Steinberg