Like most of Samuel Beckett's work, Waiting for Godot takes place in a world of poverty, failure and loss. It's a world over which figuratively looms the gaunt, hawklike visage of Beckett himself, iron-gray hair bristling, blue eyes piercing.
Nonetheless -- or perhaps inevitably -- a few years ago, writer and performer Gab Cody announced to grad-school classmate Rita Reis, "We should do a show called Fat Beckett." And, recalls Cody, "She said, ‘OK!'"
The show, which world-premieres Dec. 2 at Quantum Theatre, is "a female response to Godot"; it's also Beckett for a culture of material affluence rather than material privation.
Fat Beckett is a two-person show, on a stage marked by a lone dead tree, driven by darkly comic wordplay and shadowed by vaudeville. But instead of Vladimir and Estragon, it's girls: the cool, blonde adventurer Sophie (played by Cody), and the bedraggled, maroon-wigged and very pregnant clown, Kiki (Reis). And the play's gender inversions only begin with the fact that instead of waiting for someone, our protagonists are searching for a lost companion: their beloved goat, Biquette.
The script is by Cody in collaboration with Reis. The two met while studying both Beckett and clowning at Point Park University, and also bonded over French, a language prominent in Fat Beckett's dialogue. The development process included a staged reading at Bricolage Productions.
The set was built in a vacant old brick schoolhouse on an Upper Lawrenceville side street. The walls bordering the intimate stage area are covered with charred, flaking paint, plaster scabbing the brick walls.
"The psychological landscape of the play and of Beckett's work by and large is a landscape that is heavily used," says Sam Turich, who's directing for Quantum (and who's also married to Cody). "And there's something about this space that feels very used."
Meanwhile, unlike Vladimir and Estragon, Sophie and Kiki use their imaginations to "travel"; they fly in a jet, for instance. But they still confront existential dilemmas -- perhaps particularly female ones, as Cody notes, given all the roles women must play in our culture.
"I believed in you, but you don't exist," Sophie grouses to Kiki. "You think not therefore you aren't." Kiki accuses Sophie of "taking reality seriously."
As Cody says in an interview, "There's really nothing funnier than the tragedy of life."
Quantum Theatre presents FAT BECKETT Thu., Dec. 1-18. 4830 Hatfield St., Lawrenceville. $18-48. 888-718-4253 or www.quantumtheatre.com