Review: Stuck on GeeDot by Generic Ensemble Company
by Michael Meigs
Their choice of a company name offers a hint of the deadpan drollery of their approach to art and to the audience. In a town that whelps new theatre companies as if it were a puppy mill, these young women label themselves the "generic ensemble company."
Generic as in "common" and "absolutely typical" or as in "no longer under patent" or, reaching a bit, as in "an embodiment of an abstract ideal." And generic as in "gender," for their credo states in part, ". . . we strive to promote, foster, and engage performance, writing and ideas of/with people of color, queers, gender queers, women, working class people, immigrants and youth."
There's a bit of swagger in that but no arrogance toward the audience. Unless you count the moments when the two young actresses in their bowler hats and nondescript (generic) costumes peered at me with close-up, polite curiosity from several angles and pronounced themselves puzzled. "It must be a piece of modern art."
This thoughtful and creative re-interpretation of Beckett's Waiting for Godot takes place in a frame house on a dark street in east Austin near the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Webberville Road. The company painted the house number on a banner and hung it in the front yard so we wouldn't miss them completely in the darkness.
The public space was the living/dining room area and part of the kitchen space. Walls, windows, beams and bar were draped with blank, white sheets. As the 10 or so of us gathered, a woman wearing a bowler hat was sitting slumped forward in the middle of the playing space, for all the world like a Bolivian market woman who had forgotten her traditional costume. She re-animated as another, more alert and taller young woman, also in a bowler hat, joined her. We learned quickly that the shorter of the two was "Gohgoh"; the more animated was "DeeDee." The names directly mirror the nicknames given by Beckett to their prototypes Estragon and Vladimir.
GenEnCo, as they call themselves for short, developed this piece directly from Beckett's text. The action is generally the same -- that is, there is almost no action in the conventional sense, and the essence is quirky dialogue, question-and-answer, slapstick and fantasy as these two wait for She Who Fixes Things. La'arni Ayuma and Saray de Jesus play remarkably true to Beckett's dour comedy and prickly humor, while altering the text and dialogues completely. Time passes and they keep us completely engaged. GenEnCo's version is in a single act of just over an hour.
The existential wheel-spinning by GohGoh and DeeDee is interrupted by a dull slave and snappish master. The new arrivals correspond to Lucky and Pozzo in the original, but in this generic interpretation the two are played by the same actress, Natalie Goodnow. She stumbles through the front door, wearing a noose, dragging a very long, thick rope and behaving with sagging features, stumbling limbs and clogged brain. The rope remains stretched past us out the front door. This Lupe (cf., "Lucky") eventually stumbles through the house and out the back door visible in the kitchen space. After some more intramural antics by our two whimsical principals, Goodnow stalks in the front door with the other end of the rope in hand. Now she's a no-nonsense, impatient and disdainful Latina in a black tailored dress and high heels, named Zoe (cf., "Pozzo").
It's great fun -- especially if you know the original. The nonsense reaches a climax during Goodnow's second appearance as the brutish Lupe, when the other two entice her to speak. The dam breaks, and she delivers a wild, disjuncted, intense and very comic monologue that GohGoh and DeeDee become desperate to end.
The piece ends in inconclusion, with GohGoh and DeeDee standing before us, bemused, wistful and waiting.
Some welcome news from director kt shorb: this is a work in progress and GenEnCo is likely to offer it again. On the basis of Goodnow's performance here, her previous work in Austin, and the eloquently serious clowning of her fellow cast members, I'll be more than pleased to share another evening with GenEnCo.
Director shorb appealed for support for the company -- they merit it -- and suggested that we follow them on Facebook or at their Twitter address, @GenEnCo.
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(a private residence)
Austin, TX, 78702