Cast, sets show Beckett’s plays off to good advantage
What can be said about Samuel Beckett? That his work is an attack on the realist tradition? That he is the master of absurdism? That he incorporates into his plays irreverent, black-humored comedy, underlain with pessimism? Or that he sees a certain optimism in the mundane and minimalist efforts of humans.
You can decide for yourself since one of Beckett’s most famous plays, “Endgame,” and a lesser known work, “Act Without Words,” are currently being presented in tandem by The Center for the Arts at the Off Center Stage in Grass Valley.
Beckett’s plays deal with despair yet he imbues his characters with the will to survive, even in the face of an incomprehensible world. This is well-illustrated in “Act Without Words,” excellently mimed by Danny McCammon. The 12-minute piece has no spoken words, but much is said nonverbally. If you like the silent screen comedies of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, you will like McCammon’s slapstick travails. Beckett, while causing us to chuckle over the mime’s absurd attempts and failures, offers us finally a study in resignation. But in resignation, the character finally takes control of his life. Tom Taylor’s inventive use of “flying” props causes them to become a character in the play-is there perhaps a sentient being influencing the action?
“Endgame’s” title is taken from the last part of a chess game, when there are few pieces left and few moves possible.
The characters in the play are existing in a static state, seemingly near the end of their time. All the characters have some type of infirmity, either referenced or visually obvious. Two older characters spend the entire play with only their heads and shoulders protruding from garbage cans. The ensemble acting was excellent, and each actor contributed individually to the cohesion of the production.
I especially liked Michael Moerman’s depiction of Nagg, ensconced in his garbage can, expressing a gamut of emotions with his expressive face. Marion Jeffery’s understated Nell conveyed the exhaustion of her situation. John Deaderick as Hamm and Jimmy McCammon as Clov excellently portrayed their master-servant/final-dance relationship. And the set and costumes contributed greatly to the strange, somewhat forboding air.
Although “Endgame” might be an example of the existentialist view of the tedium and meaninglessness of life, Beckett intimates that something more might happen. But don’t hold your breath.
The double bill continues on various Thursdays-Sundays through April 28.
Hindi Greenberg loves theater, although she isn’t generally a fan of Beckett’s work. But when acting and directing is as good as in the above two plays, she even likes Beckett.
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