Samuel Beckett had a fondness for mathematical permutations: A character might contemplate, say, how many different sequential variations there could be in putting on his socks and shoes. So the Matrix Theater Co.’s trademark double casting of “Waiting for Godot” would almost certainly send Beckett’s mind reeling with the myriad possible pairings of Vladimirs and Estragons and Pozzos and Luckys. While every cast change unquestionably makes an enormous difference, the ensemble is strong enough to make the play’s metaphysical slapstick work well no matter who’s performing it.
“Waiting for Godot” is a play where nothing really happens; two tramplike characters, Vladimir and Estragon, simply wait, in an undefined location, for Godot, an undefined acquaintance. In their effort to pass the time, they welcome any distraction that comes along. They are especially amused by Pozzo and Lucky, two odd figures who show up one day able to see and think, respectively; the next day they are blind and mute. When they’re alone, Didi and Gogo, as they call each other, converse and argue, consider doing themselves in, complain about their situation and yearn for the day to end or for their appointed savior to show.
The play is so packed with little treasures — lines that seem like throwaways that contain within them everything the writer had to say — that no single production can capture all of them. The Matrix production captures more than most, especially if you see it more than once with different casts, who bring to the malleable work fundamentally different strengths.
David Dukes is a more thoughtful, dignified Didi than Gregory Itzin, but the latter has a better way with the comic frustrations of a character who can’t laugh without hurting. Robin Gammel’s Estragon is superbly poignant, while John Vickery’s is more playful. The biggest difference of all is in the casting of Pozzo: Tony Amendola comes off like a demented lion tamer; Granville Van Dusen portrays the same character as a Southern aristocrat.
The Itzin and Vickery combination made the physical elements of the show work better, and in the first act in particular they were far sharper in their timing. Dukes and Gammel together took it all a bit more seriously but hit the more emotional beats with aplomb. Neither teaming had the audience laughing out loud much, and there’s certainly more humor to be mined, but Andrew Robinson’s production is always ingratiating if not spot-on.
Production elements are all first-rate — Maggie Morgan’s costumes are nicely suited to the individual actors — and the stage tableaux at the end of the acts are beautiful and moving.