One can't exactly state these men were born to play these roles. When they were very young, like so many other youngsters, they probably imagined themselves growing up to play pirates, kings, monsters, perhaps even handsome leading men. But, like the characters in this iconic Samuel Beckett play, their days had a way of passing, and the actors have arrived at a point at which they've earned the right to step into the roles. In the coming years, each actor will probably begin pondering Lear -- and make a fine one. But it is now, and here they are, in Beckett's barren world, delivering the ultimate in existential theatrical literature, in director Andrew J. Traister's highly burnished, surprisingly congenial production.
Robertson Dean's Vladimir is remarkably kindhearted. His apparent affection for Joel Swetow's Estragon is more companionable, less patronizing, than one sees in many other productions. Thus the relationship between the two characters, which has lasted "50 years, maybe," is not one of daily conflict; the two can face the harsh world as a team, rather than as a constantly bickering couple. The two actors work in slightly different styles: Dean's is more naturalistic, Swetow's more heightened. But their speaking voices combine symbiotically to evoke opera: Dean's warm basso and Swetow's mellow baritone soar and blend appealingly.
Mitchell Edmonds creates the supremely pompous, theatrically self-absorbed Pozzo so richly that he even reveals a touch of appeal. Mark Bramhall makes the slack-jawed, drooling hunchback Lucky supremely intelligent but also likable. This Lucky has apparently learned from Pozzo how to think and speak, mimicking his master's round tones and throaty gurgle; or, as Beckett hints, has Pozzo "learned" from Lucky? Bramhall's dance wickedly encapsulates all that is wrong with "modern" dance.
Two moments are of note among the especially noteworthy elements of this production. Dean's amazement as he learns Lucky can think is a revelation about how classes always look down on the more downtrodden. And further, Dean's utter seriousness and work "in the moment" with the boy (a sincerely solemn Frankie Foti reviewed, alternating with Alex Yeghiazarian) is disarmingly charming.
Act 2 ends in Estragon's pain, Vladimir's resignation. Would that humanity had a third choice.
Presented by and at A Noise Within,
234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale.
Repertory schedule. Oct. 13-Jan. 20, 2008.
(818) 240-0910, ext. 1. www.anoisewithin.org