Review "Endgame": Beckett's Profound Absurdity

Steppenwolf Theatre presents


At 1650 N. Halsted
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Frank Galati
Thru June 6th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Seventy-five minutes with no intermission

‘Ending is the beginning.’  ‘Time is zero.’  ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.’  Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett penned a one act play with moments of profound absurdity.  Steppenwolf Theatre presents ENDGAME directed by ensemble member Frank Galati.   The epitome of a dysfunctional relationship, Clov is indentured to Hamm.  Hamm is a bitter, needy disabled man.  Clov is a victim of emotional abuse.  Shut away in a stark fortress, they exist without really living. Their lives are routines of the same questions and same answers.   Also, bottled up, literally, with them in the home are Hamm’s aging parents longing for yesterday.   ENDGAME makes a sport of laughing about nothing.

For theatre goers that like a plot, ENDGAME isn’t a good match.  For those willing to put the puzzle together without looking at the box top, Beckett and Galati join forces to make it an interesting activity. Under Galati’s masterful direction, Beckett’s often meaningless prose is heightened for a laugh.  William Petersen (Hamm) plays the ludicrous blind man to perfection.  His moment of “little right…little left…little center” is maddeningly ridiculous.  As soon as Hamm is awake, Ian Barford (Clov) goes from light-hearted giggler to oppressed servant.  His moments of unseen rebellion are mischievously amusing. In smaller roles, Francis Guinan (Nagg) and Martha Lavey (Nell) are an odd tribute to the treatment of the aged. 

A massive sheet serving as a curtain is raised to reveal similar sheets covering a set with minimal objects.  It’s a dramatic visual designed by James Schuette.  The silly twist is uncovering a sheet clad Petersen to see a miniature sheet on his face.   It’s another moment of finding the funny in Beckett’s farce.  What was Beckett’s end game?  Does this play have a point?  Is this a poignant tale of life’s irrelevance?  Or was Beckett absurd for his own amusement?  Maybe it’s just about a clove being necessary to add flavor to ham.

A man with little tolerance for the absurd, Bill sums up the experience in three word:  “glad it ended.”


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  • My feelings exactly--saw the play and found it disturbing that four "great" actors on stage could not get this story across to me (or most in the audience!). I've seen Endgame performed several times but the acting of this ensemble was far off the mark--if Galati, Lavey, Petersen, etc. want a great quartet from their acting, they need more weeks of rehearsal before performing a concert worthy of the price of tickets. Sitting in the theater, I thought "this group likes each other too much"! They need someone who is working on stage to make them work! So, Mr. Galati, Ms Lavey, Mr Petersen--do something beside sit on your golden cushions and wake up the audience with a little bit of absurd comedy for this play! Otherwise, it's just boring or confusing or a waste of time.

  • In reply to mspeed:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Having seen Goodman's "Krapp's Last Tape" with Brian Dennehy, I was hoping for more Beckett profound than absurd. I actually enjoyed the acting more than the story.

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