Also see Zander's review of Fingers & Toes
Endurance, Nick Ryan's fierce and fascinating play, is currently playing at Long Wharf Theatre, as presented by the enterprising Split Knuckle Theatre. This endlessly inventive show uses the most simple of set piecesdesks, office chairs, a filing cabinetto tell the story of one man's desperate attempt to keep his corporate job, as well as the jobs of his three colleagues, despite the threat of downsizing. But there is something much larger going on under the surface of this play, the real story of man against machine or even man against an oppressive higher power. It is in these respects that Endurance reminds me of such iconic works as Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine and Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock. Still, Endurance is very much its own entity. Featuring a superlative cast of four and displaying an unexpected sense of humor, this production of Endurance is often riveting and truly unlike anything I have ever seen. As such, it is well worth a visit to Long Wharf Theatre to see this show to experience its power for yourself.
One of the conceits that Endurance employs is its main character, Walter Spivey (a terrific Christopher Hirsh), using the story of a British explorer named Sir Ernest Shackleton, who kept over twenty men alive for two years when trapped in Antarctica almost a century before, as his inspiration to lead his own team of three men to keep their office jobs. Consequently, there is some time traveling, so to speak, in this playthe same actors who portray the present day office workers also play the men who were trapped in Antarctica. Since the four actors are all extraordinarily talented and masters at being able to change character in a heartbeat, this device works flawlessly.
Actually, one of the chief assets of Endurance is its cast. Besides the aforementioned Christopher Hirsh, Greg Webster makes quite an impression as Ben Brody, probably the toughest character at the office. Jason Bohon, playing Larry, the meekest man in the show, is excellent, and Andrew Grusetskie shines as Mark Mercier, maybe the one most desperate to keep his job. What's also nice is that these performers, as mentioned, play roles in the parallel story of the men trapped in Antarctica, with Greg Webster as the suitably heroic leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton. In these scenes from the past, there is song (music provided by Ken Clark) and each of the actors disappears completely into vastly different characters. Indeed, there are moments when the two stories nearly collide onstage, to stunning effect. It should be noted, however, that, thanks to the skill of these four actors, one is always able to tell exactly which time period is being portrayed onstage at any given moment.
Though, oddly enough, there is no director mentioned in the program, Endurance plays like a house afire, with almost nonstop motion. Credit can be given, however, to costume designer Lucy Brown and lighting designer Dan Rousseau for their invaluable contributions in helping playwright Nick Ryan bring his play to life. Endurance is truly a mind bending tale of man against the powers that be, and it is all the more impressive that it is told simply through the work of four exemplary actors and the most minimal of scenery. Veering from crushing disappointment to moments of outright joy, Endurance takes the audience on quite a journey and it is almost shocking, at the end of the show, to realize how much has been accomplished within this play's ninety minutes. It is recommended that you go to Long Wharf Theatre to see Endurance, for anytime a play this inventive and revolutionary comes along, it deserves to be seen.
Endurance continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through June 29th. For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call (203) 787-4282. For more information about the Split Knuckle Theatre, please visit www.splitknuckletheatre.org.