In 1949 Samuel Beckett completed Waiting for Godot, the elemental tragicomedy of the 20th Century. Written in Paris a few short years after war had ravaged Europe, Godot's bleak landscape and autistic dialogue plays like apocalyptic vaudeville, smudging clown makeup with tears.

In Portland Center Stage's premier of Another Fine Mess, playwright Steven Drukman tips his bowler hat to Beckett, acknowledging the prophetic weight of Godot in a world discombobulated by xenophobia and terror. Another Fine Mess begins in a backstage dressing room before a performance of Waiting for Godot, the actors and stage manager speaking into and staring at a vanity mirror, which in this case, happens to be the plane between stage and audience. The mirror device is one of the play's more ingenious conceits, inviting the audience into the actors' own self-scrutiny and paranoia.

Yes, Another Fine Mess is "post-9/11," which may be a hard pill to swallow for those wearied or frustrated by the steady, often scrappy parade of "artists' reactions" to the terrorist attacks of 2001. Luckily, Drukman's play retains Beckett's reciprocal tone of tragedy and comedy, and Portland Center Stage ably humanizes Drukman's self-described "love letter to the theater." For the play-within-a-play, director Cliff Fannin Baker brilliantly employs a cast convincingly suited for an actual production of Godot. Shakespearean veteran David Cromwell's performance as Gordon has the embarrassed dignity essential to Beckett's heartbroken heroes, and is perfectly matched by the sawed-off mustache and hang-dog voice of Ted Rosium as Dennis. Erin Way is quietly lovely as The Boy, with sad goth eyeliner and a ghetto blaster full of choral requiems.

Another Fine Mess takes a tour through the self-referential wasteland of what one character calls "Meta-whatever," which at first seems unnecessary, until one realizes that it's used more as a comic foil than a profound dose of formalist criticism. In this way, Deconstruction can work almost as well as the best fart jokes. The laughter doesn't offer any answers, but only a sudden, cacophonous flood of relief. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT