BWW Reviews: A.C.T. Presents Beckett's Unconventional ENDGAME AND PLAY

May 18
10:14 AM 2012


Both terribly morbid and wonderfully brilliant, Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" and "Play" are difficult at first to understand. Beckett's focus on existential themes of death and the meaning - or meaninglessness - of life make any interpretation of his work difficult to enjoy on its own. 

At Wednesday night's American Conservatory Theatre opening of the two one-act plays, the audience laughed occasionally as Bill Irwin and Nick Gabriel dimly lit the drudgery of Beckett's "Endgame" script with delightful facial expressions and exaggerated tones of voice. The show follows a day in the life of a blind, immobile master, formerly of rich glory, and his servant, whom he plays word games with and forces to do ridiculous tasks, mistreating the poor soul on purpose. Director Carey Perloff creates a feeling of movement despite the play's stationary characters. But even with this well-staged production, great acting does not equal an hour and a half of entertainment. 

Upon first viewing and without any prior familiarity, audiences new to Beckett's work spend too much time trying to understand "Endgame" - like why two of its characters live in trash cans - limiting their ability to take anything away from the play and resulting in boredom just a few minutes in. "Endgame" has plenty of juicy material to chew on, but the material does not stand on its own. It needs explanation. A.C.T.'s "Words on Plays" booklet comes in handy here, but even with the extensive commentary, "Endgame" works best as a piece of literature studied extensively and, then, perhaps watched with fresh appreciation.

Beckett's "Play" does a better job of entertaining and making its plot and meaning clear. Similar themes to "Endgame" exist, but the creative context of "Play" makes it far more interesting, and the short 20 minute length helps to keep the audience's attention.

In "Play," three heads appear on top of dark urns, able to speak  only when an interrogating spotlight lights up their faces. The three take turns recounting the complexities of when the man cheated on his wife with his mistress. Beckett's characters live in a sort of limbo or hell, much like the punishments present in Dante's "Inferno." Forced to replay the petty details of their lives, they repeat their story once, giving audience members the missing ingredient of "Endgame": the ability to fully understand the story being told. René Augesen, Anthony Fusco and Annie Purcell glaze over Beckett's quick and witty dialogue with ease, all to perfect timing. 

Playwright Samuel Beckett is a genius in words and metaphor, but while that brilliance translates on to the stage well for "Play," it does not translate so well with "Endgame." The A.C.T. creative team has stretched the script to its full potential, but its handsome efforts will mean little to those who have not done their homework.


Through June 3

American Conservatory Theatre

San Francisco THEATER

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Harmony Wheeler A theater lover since childhood, Harmony Wheeler has done Marketing and Public Relations work for Sierra Repertory Theatre, Hillhouse Opera Company and other companies. She graduated with high honors from Biola University with her degree in Journalism and an emphasis in Public Relations. In addition to working for the Gallo Center for the Arts, MJM Entertainment Group, Biola University Marketing and Communications, 6th Street PR, and Zimbabwe Gecko Society, Wheeler has written for The Modesto Bee, The Chimes, Static MultiMedia,, TUFW Alumnus Magazine, Christian Book Previews, The Christian Communicator, and Church Libraries Magazine. Her photos appear in The Dominican Dream, a book available for purchase through Biola University's Journalism Department. Her photography and video work can be found at To learn more about Harmony Wheeler, or to contact her for work possibilities, visit

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