WAITING FOR GODOT, Excaliber Shakespeare Company of Chicago, at the Heartland Studio Theater. For much of its three-hour span, Darryl Maximilian Robinson's revival digs deep into a great play's fusion of gallows humor and genuine despair. But sometimes this production overstates the crisis, as in Vladimir's belabored final breakdown.
Beckett's two tramps are unforgettable prisoners of habit and victims of memory; loudly desperate to prove they were here, they also fear there's "nothing to be done." Robinson's Vladimir and Mark Poremba's Estragon are often worthy of Beckett, but Poremba's flat delivery can make Estragon's thickness more irritating than pathetic, and Robinson's grandiloquent Vladimir sometimes explodes into Robin Williams-style impersonations that seem more auditions than cries for help. (Bert Lahr, the most famous Vladimir, had only to imitate himself.) But the eloquence comes through: the play abounds with such minimalist gems as Vladimir's poignant "The air is full of our cries, but habit is a great deadener." Given the production's slow pace, few of these are lost, though a brisker tempo would have driven home the comedy.
Kim Crawford's pompous, privileged Pozzo is full of violent affectations in the first act but becomes more real in the second, when he's blinded into humility. Making a very impressive Chicago debut, Shawn Martin creates a winsome, Chaplinesque Lucky: his gracefully athletic delivery of the ill-named slave's monologue is acting verging on euphoria. --Lawrence Bommer