Review: Beckett's ENDGAME Brings the Absurdist's World to the Kirk Douglas Theatre

By: May. 02, 2016
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Every director has their bucket list of plays they wish to direct or perhaps even appear in someday. Director Alan Mandell has long been enamored with the work of Samuel Beckett and has toured with original productions of Waiting for Godot and Endgame directed by Beckett. With his 80-year career in theatre and innate understanding of the absurdist's work, Mandell has now directed Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, starring in the production with Barry McGovern. This is the second Beckett play in which the two actors have appeared together, the first being Waiting for Godot in 2012 at the Mark Taper Forum. And their stage camaraderie is a wonder to behold.

In the absurdist world of Endgame, somewhere between existence and death, four characters, Hamm (played by Mandell), Clov (McGovern), Nagg (James Greene) and Nell (Charlotte Rae who shares the role with Anne Gee Byrd), cling to sanity while performing daily rituals, sometimes comically, as they wrestle some sort of order from the cyclical, repetitious, seeming nothingness of life. There is no real point to the story, just that life is an exercise in futility and that all things will happen exactly as they are meant to happen - or not. There is no controlling it so you may as well just sit back and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.

And sit back Mandell does throughout the 80-minute play since Hamm is confined to a wheelchair center stage in a room which appears to be much like Rapunzul's isolated castle tower room thanks to the marvelous set designed by John Iacovelli. Hamm is unable to walk or see, cared for by Clov who can only walk and never sits. McGovern often climbs a rickety stepladder to see out the windows, but never has any good news to share. In fact, McGovern lets us know from the start that whatever happens on that day will continue to happen every day, sharing his frustration with each task he is requested to do for the ailing Hamm.

Adding the much-needed levity throughout the play are Nagg and Neil, two elderly souls seemingly imprisoned like Oscar the Grouch in two large trash cans stage right. Eventually we find out Nagg is Hamm's father during one of their many discussions, which of course are repetitious retellings of stories shared everyday between the men. And while they laugh at the absurdity of their lives, none of the characters ever tries to escape, which of course would be futile anyway. Greene and Rae are the perfect foils, the only distractions available for poor Hamm and Clov.

Richard Watts, Jr. of the New York Post once said of Beckett and Endgame, "It is his remarkable ability to mix beauty, imagination, vitality, and wry humor that transforms Beckett from a mere dispenser of meaningless gloom into a dramatic poet." And I can add that watching these four remarkable actors take on such challenging roles is the highlight of the production, which many may find pointless and somewhat boring given how much talk and little action takes place. But I encourage you to just sit back and enjoy the artistic ride!

Samuel Beckett's classic Endgame continues through May 22, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. (dark Mondays) at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre. Tickets are available online at, by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 628-2772, in person at the Center Theatre Group box office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles) or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to performances. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Ample free parking and restaurants are adjacent.


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