Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin
in Waiting for Godot
(© Joan Marcus)
Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin
in Waiting for Godot
(© Joan Marcus)
No matter how magnificent a play may be, it always reveals discernible influences. Take Samuel Beckett's 1954 classic, Waiting for Godot, now being given a disappointing revival at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54 under the direction of Anthony Page. For example, with its forlorn protagonists Vladimir and Estragon (Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane) clinging to one another at the same time as they try each other's frayed patience, loud echoes can be heard of Shakespeare's King Lear when the self-deposed monarch and blinded adviser Gloucester meet on the heath.

An ideal production of Beckett's play -- labeled a "tragicomedy" and intrinsically funnier than is often thought -- should achieve a healthy balance between the Bard and the bawdy. Much of the dropped-trousers element is present here; but as the two-act exercise in existential angst unfolds, the profound despair in the face of dimming hope is missing. It may be that Page decided he didn't want to go heavy on the morose qualities Vladimir and Estragon share -- or that he considered them a Beckettian cliché -- but without the constant undercurrent of debilitating depression, Godot risks becoming a work about a pair of nags having at one another for far too long.

Although Lane's opening line is "Nothing to be done" -- uttered while he tries to remove a tight boot -- there is an immediate feistiness to the actor's portrayal. What is also on view, unsurprisingly, is Lane's signature comic disgust. It's not wrong exactly -- Lane can usually count on it getting bursts of ticket-buyer laughter -- but it isn't right enough either. A dedicated Beckett interpreter, Irwin drops the smug devotion he's taken on about mastering the master, however, when speaking his lines, he indulges in elaborately scooped notes and odd syllabic stresses, all of which undercut too many of the script's emotional effects.

None of this amounts to a total loss, since there's fun to be had -- particularly in the second half. However, it does say something that the biggest giggles have to do with a bit of business involving Lane's tangling the whip which belongs to Pozzo (John Goodman) in the branches of a tree rather than anything intrinsically in the text. Like Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo -- who arrives with his bedraggled slave Lucky (John Glover) -- is a figure in psychic trouble. Nonetheless, Goodman (who has ballooned to the size of a Fernando Botero sculpture) affects a landed-English-gentry accent and delivers a performance that primarily adds to the ratcheted-up jollity. For his part, Glover might have made more impact while declaiming Lucky's non-stop, nonsensical diatribe had Page not used the patter as background noise for inappropriate clowning by Estragon and Vladimir.

Along with the aforementioned tree that Beckett stipulates as the play's setting, designer Santo Loquasto supplies a plethora of totemic rocks. The resulting look may resemble a lunar landscape, but the play's lunacy is only partially realized.