REVIEW (L.A. Times): 'Waiting for Godot' With Stoic Grace, Solid
By Michael Phillips
We're born "astride of a grave and
a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger
puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of
Such is the stoic observation of a
homeless man killing time, while time returns the insult. The lines
contain a terrible beauty. More often, however, Samuel Beckett's
"Waiting for Godot" is a simple play ("Why," Beckett wondered, "do
people have to complicate a thing so simple?") taken up with
weak-bladder jokes, hat-switching routines straight out of Laurel
and Hardy, petty cruelties and "private nightmares," scored to the
rhythms of music hall and vaudeville patter.
The result remains, stubbornly,
the key work of our post-Atomic Age.
The Matrix Theatre Company revival
is a good, solid "Waiting for Godot." If it leaves you waiting for .
. . something, it's something so many "Godots" lack. Director Andrew
J. Robinson respects the material up, down and sideways. He has some
fine actors at his dispatch. But only rarely do we get the elusive
Buster Keaton effect.
Beckett's own favorite clown (and
later, collaborator) brought to each new cosmic indignity a blend of
craziness and gravitas. Comic poetry like Keaton's, you don't find
often. In an otherwise worthy production, director Robinson and
company acknowledge Beckett's comic and tragic impulses—but they
remain separate. We miss those junctures where tragedy and comedy do
little hat-switching routines of their own, and then move on.
Beckett completed "Waiting for
Godot" in January 1949, after a productive three-month blur. Four
years later, the modestly scaled Theatre Babylone in Paris took it
on, though the theater itself was flat broke. If "I am going to
close up shop," the theater manager said, "I may as well close up in
The play's language is that of a
man who struggled to believe in the power of language to begin with.
"Joyce believed in words," Beckett wrote of his friend James Joyce.
"All you had to do was rearrange them and they would express what
you wanted." Beckett didn't share that optimism. Yet his tramps
Vladimir and Estragon, waiting by a tree to see a man about an
assignment of some sort, fend off the worst—intimations of
mortality, the fear that death won't come—with words.
Per the Matrix stratagem, "Godot"
features two actors alternating in each role. At Friday's opening
night performance, David Dukes played Vladimir opposite Robin
Gammell's Estragon, with Tony Amendola as Pozzo, landowner and
slaveholder, and JD Cullum as Lucky, the unlucky slave. The role of
A Boy, messenger for someone named Godot, was played by Will
It's an authoritative ensemble,
from Rothhaar's wary, urgent Boy on up. Gammell relies on a doleful,
grousing attack throughout, but he's touching all the same. Amendola,
very good in the recent Old Globe Theatre "Cymbeline," tends to
blast the insults in ways recalling F. Murray Abraham in the Steve
Martin-Robin Williams Broadway revival. Yet he brings considerable
force and nastiness to the material, nicely counterbalanced by
Cullum, whose white fright wig pays homage to the original 1953
Lucky, Jean Martin.
In Dukes' performance, you're
given an artful sense of a dandy fallen on extremely hard times.
This tramp is like Franklin Pang-born after the fall of the stock
market, or the Bomb, or something more gradual. Working up a dance
routine with Gammell, or grimly uttering the observation that "habit
is a great deadener," Dukes gives this "Godot" a flash of subtlety