Play Review – “Endgame and Play”

Play Review – Endgame and Play

Samuel Beckett, famous playwright and novelist, and disciple of James Joyce, had a reputation for writing about basic, primal human issues albeit from a perspective of wry humor. In 1969, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and later he became most famous for his play “Waiting for Godot”. Currently, at A.C.T. in San Francisco , two of Beckett’s one-act plays, Endgame and Play, are played to packed audiences.

Play is performed first and is a short twenty-five minute long act with three characters, a man and two women, his wife and mistress, who are all individually trapped up to their necks, in three tall, ceramic urns. Each woman believes herself to be “the one” and despises the other. The characters speak together as well as in rapid succession and all of their harshness and fight occurs through words and facial expressions, because the characters are immobile and encased in urns. The spotlight is projected on their faces, when they speak. His choice of the topic of three-way love triangle reflects the most common everyday experience of any audience and his brilliant technique of having the characters trapped inside an urn reflects how each one is trapped in this love, hate, anger, sadness hell, with no end possible. Not only do they remember and regurgitate every petty, disgraceful detail but the entire play is repeated, thus further trivializing the petty details that mean so much to each of them, but mean so little in the larger life context. Moreover, initially the man tries to hold together, feeding what each woman expects to hear, but as the infidelity saga unravels and he is no more required to hold the façade, he becomes more detached and withdraws into his own memories of his rather empty, sad, lonely life. The dialog of each woman is similarly full of hate for the other woman at first and of deep sadness, as the clarity regarding the hopeless situation emerges. The irony of this oft repeated, most human of all stories, as it emerges from Beckett’s play, is that none of them are every truly “together”, as the man often repeats, “to think we were never together”. While the story is of and about love, in the end, love is not dominant in the life and in reminisces of any of the three characters, who are endlessly trapped in the drama, with all its pettiness.

One could imagine the difficulty of acting in this theatrical production. Play is brilliantly acted by Rene Augesen, Anthony Fusco, and Annie Purcell.

Endgame, was the longer one-act play, with a cast of four characters. The English title for the play originally written in French, was taken from the last part of the chess game, when there are very few pieces left and the end becomes obvious. Beckett apparently gave very detailed instructions and stage directions. Accordingly, it is staged in an empty room with two small windows placed rather high in the room, that Clov reaches by climbing a ladder, to look out from. Hamm, is an invalid and a tycoon who is seated in a ridiculous throne-like wheel chair, positioned in the center of the room, which is moved for brief periods when he insists on being moved by Clov, his clownish, suffering, slave of a caretaker.  Hamm seems to be dying in a world that appears to be nearing an end.  Hamm’s elderly mother and father live in two trashcans and once or twice they surface from inside the trashcans and in their gloomy conversations and helplessness, add their chorus to the main theme of the nearing end. At times, it is sadly funny, as one of the character says, “nothing is funny as unhappiness”. There isn’t much of a story that I got from the play and it certainly raises many profound questions, but provides few answers. What this play does poignantly portray is a scene of total helplessness of an invalid and other characters, environment of utter desolation, boredom, ruthlessness, sadness, no salvation from the mistakes made earlier, and in the end, life seems to boil down to lovelessness and nothingness. And yet, what it also portrayed is that regardless of the physical limits, both of one’s body and the environment, the human mind continues to remain free to choose to be harsh, to be slavish, to decide to break free (as Clov decides to leave Hamm).  The mind continues to roam free, imagine what might be happening outside the windows, to fantasize, to romanticize the youth, to tell stories, to seek listeners by cajoling and bribery, and on and on. Is it a story of total bleakness of life, life that is devoid of any meaning, and of inescapable death and helplessness or is it a saga of hope and imagination? You decide.

Giles Havergal and Barbara Oliver play the parts of Hamm’s elderly parents and Bill Irwin and Nick Gabriel brilliantly play the parts of Hamm and Clov, respectively.

If you are interested in light hearted entertainment, then skip this production of Beckett’s duel treat for the mind. But if you are interested in pondering over life, over love, over total lack of control and how people make meaning from it, over what life sometimes comes to mean, then this is the production that you may not want to skip.


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