Just watch it and let it happen. That’s the best way to come to terms with Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Here’s an existentialist play that is as simple as it is profound. It’s not for everyone. If you liked Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, then you’ll most likely enjoy this play, which is considered Beckett’s masterpiece. This dark apocalyptic work explores the meaning of life, love, family, and time. Long Wharf’s Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein directs this play, which features four excellent actors including stars Brian Dennehy and Reg. E. Cathey as well as Joe Grifasi and Lynn Cohen.
Some scholars suggest the play is like a chess game, others suggest a biblical emphasis with the lead character named Hamm (Noah’s son was Ham) and the all-gray set, the world after the flood. There are many ways to interpret this work, but it all comes down to a fear of being alone, the inevitable passage of time, and ultimately — death.
In Endgame, Hamm is blind and Clov is his caretaker. Hamm’s parents have been tossed aside in trash bins. They are no longer of any use to Hamm. Their bodies are deteriorating. He keeps Clov at his beck and call by locking the food cabinet. As long as Clov wants to live, he needs to eat and Hamm has the only key. Hamm is afraid that Clov will leave him. Then he will be alone since his mother dies and his father is elderly. Hamm needs the reassurance that Clov is nearby and in this production Hamm blows a whistle and Clov comes to him.
While Beckett’s stage directions are crucial and require nothing more than a gray set with a couple of small high windows and two trash bins, Eugene Lee’s design for Long Wharf’s Stage II is not quite that empty. It is all gray, but there are books obviously falling apart and an old computer screen tossed onto a heap of ruined items. This plays into how obsolete everything becomes in time and certainly after a catastrophe. We know something of catastrophic proportions has happened, but we don’t know exactly what. Unfortunately, with the threat of nuclear weapons and possible annihilation, the play is as timely as ever.
The character Hamm is a tyrant who has no respect for life nor values human beings. Essentially Beckett is asking “What’s the use of living, when everything is going to decay and end.” It certainly can be seen as an anti-capitalist play since material goods are doomed to deteriorate. Throughout the play there is also a continual focus on time. Hamm’s parents recall better times in the past. Hamm lives in the dark present, but also recalls the past and looks forward only to the time for his medicine. As dark and futile as Hamm’s life seems to be, he looks for companionship even if it is with a toy dog. Ultimately, we see that no matter how bleak the world may be, no matter how meaningless life seems to be, the human spirit keeps us going on.
Dennehy and Cathey work well together. While Dennehy as Hamm plays the role with powerful command laced with a cruel streak, there’s a sense of vulnerability about Dennehy’s character that makes us pay close attention to his actions. Cathey adds much-needed humor to the piece. His strong physical appearance belies his struggles, but adds to the idea that he too will decay and die. Grifasi and Cohen also offer some comic relief and play their roles well. Cohen’s smile, captured even in her squinted eyes, and Grifasi’s jokes add a spark of light to an otherwise very dark play. It plays through Feb. 5. Box office: 203-787-4282
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]