Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: 'Endgame'

Samuel Beckett's "Endgame," is rich is a precise delivery by Gate Theatre of Dublin. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews from Annenberg Center in University City.

Review: 'Endgame'

Blog Image
Rosaleen Linehan, Des Keogh & Owen Roe in the Gate Theatre's production of Beckett's ''Endgame'' at Annenberg Center. Photo by Jeff Clarke.

By Howard Shapiro

For a fan of absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, is there anything as comforting as seeing two large garbage cans on stage when the curtain comes up on Endgame? A pair of his great oddballs, Nell and Nagg, will pop their heads from those cans, as they always do, to further elucidate or confuse things.

The cans are a sign that a modern classic is about to begin, perhaps the last thing Beckett, who died in 1989, would have wanted: people becoming comfortable with his plays, knowing what to expect and even anticipating their own takes on it.

But wait — the success of Endgame, like any stage work that holds up, depends greatly on its production, a point being roundly proven this week at the Annenberg Center. There, the visiting Gate Theatre of Dublin is performing a rich and precise Endgame, the story of an old blind man named Hamm, his longtime servant and the parents he has either thrown away, or who have ensconced themselves, in the trash.

Endgame premiered in 1957 in London, four years after Beckett’s Waiting for Godot first played in Paris, and they share themes:  meaning and meaninglessness, existence, the circular nature of our lives.

In both, the Irish-born playwright looks at two sides of the same tarnished coin; on one side, he examines the repetitive routines we adopt, need, or maybe fall into unawares, and on the other, he sees planetary routines that repeat themselves, the beginnings that turn to endings and then begin again.

I don’t mean to make either Godot or Endgame sound burdensome — I mean to make them sound thoughtful and thought-provoking, and that’s where the Gate Theatre production simply shines. Endgame is less accessible than Godot, but the old blind man (Owen Roe), his valet (the revered Beckett interpreter Barry McGovern), and his can-confined parents (Rosaleen Linehan and Des Keogh) come across as surely as possible in this eloquently-delivered rendering.

Alan Stanford directs the production on Eileen Diss’ aptly confined set, which takes up only the middle of the stage. Endgame is being performed through the weekend in repertory with Gate Theatre’s rendition of Beckett’s novel Watt, which McGovern adapted for the stage.

On opening night Tuesday at Endgame, whose last seconds call for brief tableau, the audience got one, followed by some odd lighting ups and downs that may or may not have been a part of the production. No one knew how to react, whether this version was finished, whether something else would begin — the sort of questions Beckett encourages. So no one applauded for several confusing seconds.

Now that would have thoroughly pleased the man, you can bet.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.


Endgame: At Annenberg Center's Harold Prince Theatre, 3680 Walnut St., through Sunday.  Tickets: $20-$48. Information: 215-898-3900 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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