Review: Endgame

By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer

The Arden Theatre’s current production of Endgame marks the first time this company--usually squarely in the province of narrative-driven plays and musicals--has taken on absurdist Samuel Beckett. So it’s perhaps not all that surprising that director Edward Sobel attempts to impose a sort of contemporary narrative on Beckett’s timeless apocalyptic vision; not surprising, but disappointing.

In 1984, American Repertory Theater was famously made to add an insert to its Endgame program registering the playwright’s disgust at director JoAnne Akalaitis’ subway setting, incidental music and interracial casting. This last element, he explained, added unintentional sociopolitical overtones. It’s also the key element in any argument for or against following Beckett’s very specific stage directions to the letter. 

Beckett’s intention (bare room, two windows) was a lack of specificity, a stark depiction of the human condition. Sobel’s intention, or at least the result, is utter specificity, a depiction of these humans’ specific condition.

The bare room is instead the subterranean clearing between a collapsed overpass complete with dangling automobile, and a subway stop, its windows an air duct and a hole punched through the cement overhead. Designed by Kevin Depinet, it’s an arresting image, but again, pretty darn specific. Rather than a bloody handkerchief covering the face of Scott Greer’s Hamm, it’s a newspaper (also an obvious message in that choice), and Dan Kern and Nancy Boykin’s trashcan-bound Nagg and Nell wear midcentury middle-class dress covered in a layer of dust and debris--a robin’s egg blue suit and pillbox cap for Boykin, suspenders, a newsboy cap and plaid shirt for Kern. Beckett (and his dialogue), however, called for Hamm’s parents to be infantilized, clad in bonnets, crying for “Me pap!” 

And yes, James Ijames’ Clov, here, the Chaplinesque, jumpsuit-clad servant to Hamm’s master, is African-American. So, does Hamm and Clov’s racial dynamic matter? Of course it does, particularly since Sobel chooses to end the play with the departing Clov clad not in a Panama hat and tweed coat as Beckett instructed, but rather a Kufi-style skullcap and tan tunic. Make of that what you will.

Despite Beckett’s objections, when Akalaitis’ production premiered, reviewers believed her liberties didn’t affect his message. This time, this reviewer believes the playwright was ill-served. Greer and Ijames are ringers, and it’s no small pleasure to watch them interact; Greer in particular, forceful and august, might well be the inspiration behind the Arden’s interest in this play. But Sobel chooses a grim route that belies Nell’s declaration, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” There’s not much to laugh at here, but plenty to puzzle over.

Playing at: Arden Theatre, Arcadia Stage, 40 N. 2nd St. Through Sun., Mar. 10. Tickets: $36 to $48. Information: 215-922-1122 or www.ArdenTheatre.org


We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines
Help us learn more about Philly.com commenters. Click here to take this quick survey.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments
Continue Reading