Mesmerizing Production of
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 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 .