nytheatre.com review by Jonathan Warman
August 15, 2004
On the surface, 5000 Nights looks like something between a homage to and a parody of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It's about two hobos, one named Demetri (a Slavic name like Beckett’s Vladimir), the other Pelias (an odd, vaguely Romance name like Beckett’s Estragon). The name Pelias also seems like it might be a reference to one of Godot’s ancestors, Pelleas et Melisande by symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. Indeed 5000 Nights marries Beckett’s desolate, dry, despairing wit with the mystical materialism of the symbolists.
If this sounds arty, well, yeah, it is. This show isn’t for everybody, some may find it pretentious (to be honest I occasionally found it guilty of the lesser, similar sin of preciousness), and there’s not a lot of plot. Still, there’s something magical about the images that actually appear on director/playwright Kevin Lawler’s stage. A lot of that magic comes from the performances of longtime Lawler associates Hughston Walkinshaw (who plays Demetri as a hoarse “grey eminence”) and Nils Haaland (playing Pelias as jaunty, nasal and eager to please). The two roles are tailor-made for the very talented performers playing them, and that tailoring makes what would in other hands be simply depressing somehow luminous. Especially effective are the uncredited lighting that plays beautiful games with the retina, and Lawler’s staging, which emphasizes the materiality and immediacy of live theater with an almost religious reverence. For all its flaws, 5000 Nights possesses an arresting beauty that could only be described as eminently theatrical.