What dreams! Those forests!
Enough, it’s time it ended, in the shelter, too.
And yet I hesitate, I hesitate to… to end. Yes, there it is, it’s time it ended and yet I hesitate to—
I expect an entertaining evening of performance at deep Ellum’s Undermain Theatre, the non-profit company under Main Street that consistently produces some of the most innovative shows in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area. But with Samuell Beckett’s Endgame? They lob that artistic orb clean out of the park and far across the galaxy. It’s an individual, ensemble, design and directorial triumph, an astonishingly crisp, effective production that will be tough to match by any other in the region as the performance year progresses.
If Beckett’s Waiting for Godot isn’t on the boards, it’s got to be Endgame. A nihilistic, hinted at post-apocalyptic world confined to an almost bare space, peopled with four peculiar characters (two in oversized trash cans) and one three-legged dog puppet comprises the work’s bricolage. They are alienated yet connected, deeply tragic yet brimming with comic patter, all highly symbolic and ritualized, yet as humanly real as the audience they hold spellbound. Undermain’s Endgame manages to caress its audience into enchanted immersion rather than grabbing it by the shoulders and slapping it around.
The set: stark, minimalist, full of portent. One office chair on rollers center-stage, two oversized lidded trashcans upstage. One stepladder. One exit door upstage left, two curtained, horizontal, grimy windows, one up right, the other extreme left. One unpainted muslin drop cloth to cover the character Hamm seated in the office chair with a soiled handkerchief draped over his face. Effect? Claustrophobic but limitless. The audience finds itself imprisoned bodily in this space along with the actors, where imagination can roam across the universe, swept along by Beckett’s evocative script.
The four players: symphonic, ritualistic, symbolic yet hyper-realistic, stripped bare yet fully fleshed out. The play itself seems an ultimate expression of human degradation and disintegration; yet each character sparkles with unique vitality and vibrant physicality within its peculiar stillness. Voices are pitched to a conversational level yet resonate as fluid and rich as operatic recitative. Fred Curchak and Laura Jorgensen, in sallow whiteface make-up, provide grisly comic relief as the elderly, frail “parents” Nagg and Nell, confined to a grotesque, dependent existence in the two huge trash cans upstage. Tall, angular Jonathan Brooks redirects his normally exuberant stage energy to embody a doddering, deliberate, petulant, forgetful Clov. He creates a self-absorbed, fatalistic reality incorporating what feels like hints of John Cleese, Peter Sellers and Buster Keaton delicately rolled into one. Bruce DuBose as central character Hamm controls the pace and thought transitions of the play’s progress with the deft precision of a musical conductor with keen, intimate knowledge of every artist in his orchestra and their instruments’ capabilities. Almost Hamlet-like, he suffers from over-arching helplessness, as he remains confined to the wheeled office chair, unable to stand or care for himself. Bitterness and delusion fire his character’s passions; DuBose defines a Hamm who isn’t just a talking head spouting rhetoric and metaphor. Director Stan Wojewodski, Jr. knits this rag-tag gaggle of expressive misery and repression into a cohesive flow, fostering individual character development while preserving ensemble feel throughout. His key stage moments reinforce the almost mechanically ritualized beats in the absurdist text while possessing a natural transitional sense, easy on the eye and ear.
Endgame, or Fin de Partie, was first performed in a French-language production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, opening on April 3, 1957. The title in English refers to the last part of a chess game when very few players remain on the board.
Undermain Theatre’s splendid production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame runs through May 8, 2010. Box Office: (214) 747-5515 or www.undermain.org
Scenic and Costume Design: John Arnone
Asst. Set, Costume and Properties Design: Brooks Aubrey
Scenic Artist: Linda Noland
Lighting Design: Steve Woods
Assistant Director: Erik Carter