A warning: if you’re planning to visit your first absurdist, post-apocalyptic Samuel Beckett play, you might want to do a bit of research first. I’ve always heard: some people “get it,” some people don’t. I don’t think that I “don’t” get it — I just need to process it. Which I’m still doing.
I’m sure there are many who revel in Beckett’s minimalist, esoteric wordplay. As for the rest of us? I think we’re relieved when it’s over — especially after a long Thursday at the office. I don’t recall hearing so much yawning and shifting around in seats in the theatre before. At one point, a woman in front of me stared at the ceiling for an entire minute, as if to mentally teleport herself away from the pretension. Lucky for us, a 10 second loud burst of microphone static, a technical glitch, came in at just the right time to refocus our attention.
But there’s something to be said about a play that confounds you so much that the first thing you do is hurry back home to do your research. Do I now have a better understanding of the play? Yes and no.
But I won’t bore you (or embarrass myself) with my premature analysis.
I can say this is a straightforward production that avoids any fuss or trickery. Director Frank Galati keeps the action focused on the words and carefully scripted pauses. William Peterson, of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fame, plays Hamm, our petulant protagonist for the evening, who has holed himself up in a small room while the rest of the world has apparently sunken into the sea (or something?). Peterson is a smart actor, and embodies this dominating and pathetic character with a perpetual twinkle in his eye — which is amazing since he wears tinted spectacles throughout. Hamm, who can’t walk and is blind, depends entirely on his spineless, subservient servant, Clov (a disheveled Ian Barford), who he orders around to accomplish all sorts of inane tasks. Francis Guinan and Steppenwolf Artistic Director Martha Lavey are the legless, nagging parents of Hamm’s, who are trapped (or protected?) in barrels. They pop out to lament on their situation, and when Hamm’s had his fill, he sets Clov to close their lids, “bottling” them in. This futile action goes on in repetition while Hamm and Clov wait for “the end”: i.e., death.
It’s well acted and confidently directed, with an appropriately grim set design by James Schuette. But it’s a puzzle I’m still mulling over. Is it all a meaningless game in the end? Who knows. Has Beckett pulled the wool over our eyes, much like Hamm, who covers his face with a handkerchief when Clov abandons him (but also doesn’t)? Your guess is as good as mine.
“Endgame” plays through June 6 at Steppenwolf’s downstairs theatre. Go here for more information >