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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Mesmerizing Production of
Samuel Beckett's Play and Endgame

Also see Richard's review of Laura Benanti and Six Plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Play
Annie Purcell , Anthony Fusco and
René Augesen in Play

American Conservatory Theater and director Carey Perloff have successfully tackled Samuel Beckett, one of the most unorthodox and absurdist writers of the 20th century. With this challenge, they chose to take on his little known 25-minute opus called simply Play and one of his most complex works, Endgame.

Play opens the night of Beckett works as the curtain rises on three identical grey funeral "urns" about three feet tall arranged in a row facing the audience. They contain three characters: in the middle urn is a man called M (Anthony Fusco); to his right is his wife, or long-time partner W1 (Rene Augesen); the third urn holds his mistress W2 (Annie Purcell). At the beginning and end of the play, a spotlight picks out all three faces, and the three characters recite their lines, occasionally in fragmented sentences spoken in a burst of energy following by a pause. In a somber style, the three obsess over a love affair, and each presents his or her version of the truth in the past tense. They all admit that life was senseless. All three actors are admirable in their roles. Endgame follows after a 15 minute intermission.

Endgame
Bill Irwin in Endgame
I have seen Endgame several times, and I have always enjoyed the word battles between Hamm and Clov. Most of the productions I have seen were in England, including the Royal Court Theatre production in 1957 with George Devine and Jack MacGowran. The term "endgame" is used for the closing moments in a game of chess, and you can look upon this play as a game of chess with Hamm the master . The majority of the play follows the scattered dialogue between Hamm, portrayed with an intense brilliance by Bill Irwin, and Clov, played perfectly by Nick Gabriel.

Endgame is one of Beckett's finest. It ranks with Waiting for Godot, and you might think of Pozzo and Lucky if you're up on that Beckett masterwork. Hamm is blind and cannot walk and Clov's legs hurt so much he shuffles and can't sit down. These characters reside in a dank, bricked, cell-like space with nothing but two windows to give any appearance of an outside world. The opening sequence with Clov dressed in ragged clothes, going with a stepladder from window to window to look out at nothing, is brilliant accomplished.

Off to stage left are Hamm's parents Nagg and Nell (played wonderfully by Giles Havergal and Barbara Oliver), who live in trash cans. They exemplify the tone of Carey Perloff's production. Each can provoke snickers with an inflection of a smirk. Unsteady with neglect and age, with animated fatigue, you can feel sorry for them as they live the rest of their lives in ash cans. Neil mentions that "nothing is funnier than unhappiness," which, given the characters' shocking existence combined with laugh-out-loud dialogue, sums up much of the play. Set designer Daniel Ostling and lighting designer Alexander V. Nichol put the performers into an environment of sophisticated simplicity.

Endgame and Play play through June 3rd at the American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or on line at www.act-sf.org. Up next for A.C.T. is John Kander, Fred Ebb and David Thompson's The Scottsboro Boys opening on June 21st .


Photos: Kevin Bern

- Richard Connema



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