Endgame (& Watt) by Samuel Beckett, Gate Theatre Dublin, Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, UPenn, Nov. 8-13, 2011.
The last time Gate Theatre Dublin came to Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center, the distinguished troupe brought a searing production of Waiting for Godot. This time Beckett’s Endgame took shape behind the fourth wall. The results were as bleakly savage – and impressive. The brilliant Barry McGovern – whom we cheered as Vladimir – was Clov, stooped servant to blind Hamm. Clov’s stiff -legged walk introduces the character who can’t sit but measures out his days and words. His master, Hamm, a polar opposite (in all but the death wish) cannot stand. He measures nothing but the hours. Hamm the dreamer bellowing ideas, commands. He wants to end it all, he’ll wait… Owen Roe plays his own Inquisitor, Hamm chained to a whistle. We are in the land of can’t go on. Endgame clears the finish line.
Hamm keeps his parents in dust bins. The legless Nagg and Nell who appear, almost, content. He sucks a biscuit, she, her memories; their bikering foreshadowing Beckett’s Happy Days.
“The funniest thing in the world is unhappiness,” says Nell. Rosaleen Linehan’s face is a kaleidescope of love, nostalgia, awe: Pitch poignant. Des Koegh as Nagg expresses everything with toothy grin, slant eyes, fingers at the edge of the trash bin.
Five seasons ago, the Annenberg’s Zellerbach proved too deep and wide for the Gate’s intimacies. This time, the smaller Prince was right – though its seating felt crammed. Ellen Diss’s set, Joan O’Clery’s costumes, James McConnell’s lighting are ideal with Alan Stanford’s direction. Nothing matches the incomparable McGovern, whose Yes or No is gripping. The actor knew the playwright late in life. McGovern calls him gentle and a gentleman, Beckett who will not sugar coat to save a line. Whose beauty rests in removal not accretion. Who will not spare us pain.