by Rita Charleston
Quintessence Theatre Group continues its eighth season with Samuel Beckett’s existentialist, absurdist play, “Waiting for Godot.” The classic work, first performed in Paris in 1953, features two local favorites and Barrymore Award winners, Frank X and long-time Mt. Airy resident Johnnie Hobbs Jr. The play runs through Feb. 18.
In this work, two road-weary characters, Vladimir and Estragon, arrive at a tree in the middle of nowhere to await the arrival of Godot. The two men cannot agree on when they were to meet Godot or exactly where or even why, but both know they cannot leave until they meet Godot. As two unexpected visitors pass by, the two men wonder how long they have been waiting or whether Godot will ever come. A tragicomedy in two acts, this humorous and often disturbing masterpiece by Beckett is noted by the National Theatre in England as “the most significant English language play of the 20th century.”
Frank X, the Barrymore Award-winner for InterAct’s “Lonely Planet,” appears as Estragon, while Hobbs, three-time Barrymore Award-nominee and 2015 recipient of the Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award, takes the role of Vladimir. According to Hobbs, Vladimir is the Alpha male and the more logical. “Both he and Estragon are vagabonds who have been together for about 50 years. My character comes off as a man with a great deal of experience as well as a great deal of pain.”
As for Hobbs, he says in order to play his role convincingly, he must pick and choose the characterizations he’s doing and how he gets into them. “You must find the things that are valid in your own self as well as those things that are valid in your character. You have to work your way through a kind of filter that says this is me and this is not me to make everything work.”
Hobbs admits he never believed he’d be doing this play, but when Ken Marini, the director, called to see if he was interested, Hobbs thought it was a pretty good idea. “When you’re an actor, you never know what’s going to happen next, what’s waiting for you just around the corner. And now here I am at Quintessence doing this challenging and important piece of theater.”
A Philadelphia native who moved first to Germantown and then Mt. Airy nearly 45 years ago, Hobbs says he first dreamed about becoming a baseball player. But when that didn’t happen, he turned his attention to acting.
“I’m not a university-trained actor,” Hobbs explains. “In fact, the majority of my training came from my association with Freedom Theatre and the late John E. Allen, who taught me so well. I think it’s interesting to note that John received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, and then I got it in 2015. We were the only two black people given the award, so I am truly happy and privileged to follow in John’s footsteps.”
And those footsteps led to a fine career. Extremely proud of his 40-year affiliation with the nationally recognized Freedom Theatre, Hobbs is a retired, tenured associate professor and Emeritus Professor of Theater Arts at the University of the Arts in center city. In 1996 he was the recipient of the Mary Lou Beitzel Award for Distinguished Teaching, served as Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Academic Achievement Program, et al.
Additionally, Hobbs has performed in many theaters around the area, traveled abroad through Philadelphia’s Sister City Program, and appeared in a number of noteworthy films. Now 69, Hobbs admits that acting at this age is very different than it was when he started. “It may be harder as you get older, but as you age you have a lot more to offer. The colors of your life come to the stage, and you learn how to use them to bring a kind of depth to what you’re doing. And keeping it up helps me feel young and good about myself.”
Quintessence Theatre is located at the Sedgwick Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave, in Mt. Airy. For tickets call 215-987-4450.