The arrival of Samuel Beckett’s existentialist classic Waiting for Godot caps a Broadway season marked by a surprising deluge of unlikely revivals on the Great White Way: August Wilson, Anton Chekhov, Eugene Ionesco, George W. Bush.
The biggest shock in this faithful and well-executed production may be just how under-the-top it is, given the casting of inveterate ham Nathan Lane and former circus clown Bill Irwin as Estragon and Vladimir, the two philosophizing tramps passing the time in a barren landscape in anticipation of the promised arrival of one Godot (here pronounced, as Beckett himself preferred, ”GOD-oh,” to better underscore the religious subtext). Yes, the two employ all the resources of vaudeville and slapstick at various points in the show — the second act hat shuffle is particularly adept, as is Lane’s fumbling demonstration with a bullwhip — but the actors’ comic business never becomes antic or overwhelms the show’s underlying seriousness of purpose. It’s a more restrained approach to the material that stands in sharp contrast to the current Broadway run of Ionesco’s Exit the King, which seems to set the performance dial at 11, Spinal Tap-style.
In addition to the Godot’s two leads, John Glover is a revelation as Lucky, the apparent slave of aristocratic Pozzo (John Goodman). He wheezes and drools on stage like a sad-sack workhorse who longs to be set out to pasture — until delivering a remarkable first-act monologue that begins with erudite wit but soon collapses into an unstoppable stream of blather. Goodman, meanwhile, struggles a bit with the talkier aspects of his role in the first act (why the British accent? Who knows?), but nails the more physical comedy in the second act, when his Pozzo is blind and stumbles and rolls around the stage like an overturned turtle trying to right himself.
In the end, as in the beginning, the show rightly revolves around Gogo and Didi. And Lane and Irwin are more than up to the task of capturing their characters’ mutual friendship, antipathy, and befuddlement at their fate in life — as they ponder their circumstances with regard to an absent and seemingly indifferent Godot. B+
(Tickets: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300)