Review: Playing until it’s over — Samuel Beckett’s ‘theater of the absurd’ Endgame a definite success
Submitted to The Union
The current production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame, “taking place at the Center For The Arts’ Off Center Stage in Grass Valley, is a definite theatrical success. The style is Theater of the Absurd.
The dark gray set walls are accented only by the two small windows placed high on opposite sides of the set. Mid-stage center is an intangible form covered by a sheet. Down left is another draped object. Our mind begs to decipher what is under those sheets. Before a line of dialog has been uttered, the play has begun.
Ryan Schwalm’s direction slowly eases into the story allowing the audience time to ponder this mystery that will be forever just beyond our comprehension. His blocking is minimal, but ponderously effective. He has melded a talented ensemble cast. Pam Hodges’ set is true to the script, staying within the confines of the dungeon-like room and atmosphere demanded by the playwright, while creating needed depth, dimension, and subtle color to the stage and set pieces. It’s just enough to set the dreary tone, but still keep the audience’s eye. I especially liked the modified garbage cans. The costuming, a joint effort by Lexis Larue, Ryan Schwalm, Mica Cone and Pam Hodges, is just right, as is the lighting by Maury Horn.
Clov (Marcus Arellanes) gimps slowly onto the stage, voicelessly retracing his steps until he lifts the shrouding sheet and unveils his blind, immobile employer/friend/benefactor, the sleeping Hamm (Micah Cone).
In this dungeon-like room Clov then lifts the second sheet to reveal two large garbage cans side by side.
The actors play their roles just large enough to take us into a realm of humor from time to time, which softens the tragic, melancholic state of their existence. Hamm, the central character, is a tetchy, imperious and somewhat bewildered figure. Blind and unable to walk, he is perched on his “throne;” a large chair sitting on a wheeled pallet. His hat and grappling hook are reminiscent of sepulcher and crown. In fact, Hamm (masterfully portrayed by Micah Cone) crowns himself more than once during the play. Is he trying to convince himself he is still on top, in charge of his realm and all that are in it? Clearly life in all it’s repetitive mundanity is slipping away from him and from the others as well. He and Clov bicker continually and routinely. Cone makes great use of vocal variety and artistic energy which counterpoints his physical anchoring and the hopelessness it conveys.
Hamm is juxtaposed with the resigned and melancholic Clov, who is unable to sit and finds difficulty in walking. His halting gait and pained existence are convincingly portrayed with a resigned precision by Marcus Arellanes, a very engaging actor. His movements convey a stolid loyalty to his pre-determined mundane mission, whatever that may be. He is here to serve until he is not. The two go through the day with a rhythm that is now morphing into a repetitive disease that threatens to break out in a violent fever, but never does.
There is an air of polite desperation between Hamm’s parents, Nagg (beautifully played with just the right mix of comedy and tragedy by Scott Ewing), and Nell, (a truly fine performance by Andrea Fox, her physicality of Nell being spot on), who are living out the remainder of their lives in trash cans. Ancient Nell is barely hanging on to life. Fox and Ewing have struck that magical balance between them, giving us that feeling of a long endured love now standing on the precipice of deviation and departure. Their lives have become repetitive and stagnant, just like Hamm and Clov’s. They reminisce about happier times. Nagg tries to recall a funny story that always made Nell laugh, but can’t manage to recapture the humor in it. “It’s like the funny story we have heard too often,” Nell says. “We still find it funny. But we don’t laugh anymore.”
Endgame is that moment in chess when the winner and loser have been determined, but the game must still be played out to it’s final conclusion. Beckett shows us his characters at their end game, and invites us, through humor and pathos, to reflect on the fleeting impermanence of life and our own clinging to it. As director Ryan Schwalm puts it, “it is the reason we are all here: to play the game until we can no longer.”
“Endgame” continues through Sunday, at The Center For The Arts, 314 Richardson St. in Grass Valley.
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