"Vladimir thinks about life a lot," Stewart explained, referring to the role he plays. "Estragon experiences life." He turned to his co-star. "That's rather good, don't you think?"
"In other words," McKellen replied, "Vladimir's the pretentious one, and Estragon's the down-to-earth one."
Stewart raised his coffee cup, saying, "I'll drink to that."
It was during the 22-week run, while sharing a dressing room that Stewart began the "struggle" to convince McKellen to take on No Man's Land, a play Stewart had longed to do since seeing the original production in 1975. "I had always imagined I would play the flashy role, the one played by John Gielgud," he said, but he came to the sad realization that the part was better suited to McKellen.
The rapid comic banter also reflects what's occurring onstage. McKellen described both plays "as desperately funny," with "moments of high hilarity, ridiculous farce," referencing influences ranging from the Marx Brothers to Monty Python. And Stewart cited the "percussive attitude" of stand-up comics like Chris Rock and Louis CK as having a "distinct impact" on his approach.
Indeed, McKellen said he feels that years of critics twisting themselves into knots to understand the plays' meaning have gotten in the way of the audience's enjoyment. "You don't ask what's the meaning of a Monty Python sketch. It is what is. Just enjoy it. And experience it... Pinter said of Beckett, 'I love him because he not trying to sell me the answers.' And Pinter isn't trying to sell you the answers, either."
"People will see their lives onstage in both plays," Stewart continued. "For where I am in my life now — being 73 and having just got married — they are about how you keep going and what it costs and what it takes to get through a day and into the next day."
The officiant of Stewart's recent wedding to Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Sunny Ozell was none other than 74-year-old McKellen, who added Universal Life minister to a resume that includes kings, killers and Captain Hook.
"When we look into one another's eyes at the end of the play," Stewart said, "I feel optimistic and positive that we made it one more time." He smiled at McKellen. "And it's great to be doing that with a friend."
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