Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Beckett’s ENDGAME and PLAY with Bill Irwin and Barbara Oliver at A.C.T. in SF

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday May 24, 2012 - 05:03:00 PM
Nagg (Giles Havergal, left) and Nell (Barbara Oliver).
Kevin Berne
Nagg (Giles Havergal, left) and Nell (Barbara Oliver).

Though ENDGAME is a classic, it can be tedious even in the hands of talented professionals.

We expect Samuel Beckett to be enigmatic—we still ponder Waiting for Godot. Other than the Robin Williams and Steve Martin 1988 “play it for laughs” version on Broadway (which Beckett disowned), I’ve never been a fan.  

ENDGAME is a 90-minute challenge to analyze and to endure. There is not a lot of movement in this post-apocalyptic dreary little room created by scenic designer Daniel Ostling. Mom and Dad reside in 50 gallon drums over in the corner. Hamm sits as king of this despondent little realm in a chair on a wheeled platform, with dark glasses, the image of James Joyce, that literary lion, to whom Samuel Beckett toadied for years. The program insightfully informs us that Joyce likewise would position his chair in the middle of the room to dominate it like Hamm does in this play. 

Bill Irwin played Lucky in the Williams & Martin production of Godot, then played Didi with Nathan Lane in the Roundabout Theatre production in 2009, so he knows something about Beckett. 

Bill Irwin as Hamm does his best to enliven things but tying a clown (he started with the Pickle Family Circus) down to a chair is like tying Lebron James’ shoes laces together. Clov (Nick Gabriel), his servant, shambles back and forth from the kitchen to do his bidding, with Job-like patience. Mr. Gabriel plays it realistically and effectively, even including his goony comic posture. It’s the same schtick repeated, though it gives the two the opportunity to play their master/servant war of words.  

Veteran actors Barbara Oliver (founding artistic director of Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Co.) and Giles Havergal play their parts with poignant stoicism. They embody the mutual care of married elders who cannot physically touch one another—in this case because they are confined to the barrels. 

Most of the 20th century playwrights drew from their own personal and family traumas (e.g., Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, et. al.); Beckett seems to disguise his a little more subtly.  

Beckett took care of many of his infirm relatives. He was a war hero with the French underground in WW2. He dedicated himself to humanitarian causes. He was also polyamorous, which is to say that he had intimate relationships with multiple women contemporaneously. 

The evening opener is PLAY which is a 22 minute, 3-character monologue of Woman 1, Woman 2, and Man. 

The trio is in barrels, with spotlights on their pale faces which switch to whoever is speaking. It’s about the man’s infidelity: their rage and hurt, and his rationales. A.C.T. core acting company members Annie Purcell, René Augesen, and Anthony Fusco comprise the triangle.  

So if you want the educational and cultural experience of having seen ENDGAME, I recommend it because you probably won’t get a better rendering anywhere soon. Perhaps your interpretation and insight will be deeper and more rewarding than mine. But you should know what you’re in for. 


Samuel Beckett's Endgame 

with Beckett's one-act Play  

Directed by Carey Perloff 

at the American Conservatory Theater  

415 Geary St. SF 

through Sunday, June 3.