Samuel Beckett's situates Waiting for Godot on a country road at evening. The opening stage direction also calls for a tree. Further scenic clues are sparse indeed.
For the half century of the play's existence, minimalist décor has been the norm. Santo Loquasto's environment for the current Roundabout Theatre Company revival (at Studio 54 in New York through July 11) is something else: a natural amphitheater in some sun-bleached canyon. There's a country road, yes, overshadowed by three mighty outcroppings. You might picture a cactus here, but never a shade tree, not even one reduced to fewer leaves than might be counted on the fingers of two hands.
The first impression is striking. Then the dialogue begins, and all eyes are on Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane as Beckett's existential vaudevillian tramps, John Glover and John Goodman as his archetypal slave and master, and the diminutive Cameron Clifford as Godot's emissary, a monosyllabic little goatherd.
Over the course of two acts nothing drastic "happens" to alter a viewer's sense of Loquasto's set. Yet in time it starts exerting an uncanny subliminal power. The broad-based massive rock to the right seems the ruin of a pharaoh enthroned, minus his head. In the middle, a rugged cone of stone evokes a complete figure, perhaps a dancer. To the left, a third with upraised arm struggles to extricate itself from the living boulder, like an unfinished captive by Michelangelo. First I saw these figures peripherally. Then I focused, and they were still there, silent witnesses, watching time from their place in eternity.
Ah, the powers of suggestion. Since the dawn of consciousness, humankind has seen prophets in promontories, dragons in the sierras, a man in the moon. Loquasto's set lends Beckett's landscape that fantasy dimension. Who sees us on our country road? A haunting question.