BWW Review: Incredible APT ENDGAME Proposes 'We are Obliged to Each Other'
In a stellar setting at the Touchstone Theatre in Spring Green, a superb American Players Theatre (APT) cast plays out Samuel Beckett's Endgame. An uncomfortable production to watch on stage, Director Aaron Posner breathes humor and touching life into Beckett's classic one act tragicomedy, a treatise on the end of personal and possibly global life. The desolate, tiny room, which was noted by Beckett himself in the original stage directions to be completely empty, was designed void of any beauty except for a lone terrarium filled with sand and a few artifacts from the lost, viable earth along with loose pages and stacks of books, where Beckett's characters barely survive.
Within these confines father and son, Hamm and Clov, negotiate an abusive, treacherous relationship between a parent and child. A relationship that carries on the tradition undeterred from his father Nagg, who lives in a trash bin and refused to quiet Hamm as a baby when he cried. Hamm's mother Nell, stuck in another trash bin, waits close by. Dysfunction and despair loom over these end times as only Beckett can envision, moving towards the finality of a game, similar to the remnant chess board and pieces abandoned in the room's terrarium, that were once played.
Beckett's characters, scenes and stories certainly appear distressing, and this is as the playbill notes-- when: hopefully never, and where: hopefully nowhere. Yet in this place Posner, together with Brian Mani, David Daniel, John Pribyl and Sarah Day inhabit Beckett's characters with deep, evocative humanity. This veteran team transforms Beckett's absurdity into stark emotional clarity.
Mani proves his powerful stage abilities, acting as the chair bound Hamm while connecting to the audience through arm movements, words and expression only, the father who abuses his adoptive son Clov. The audience visibly warms, actually, might fall in love with the conflicted, dutiful Clov-an impressive and inspiring David Daniel. Watching Daniel's every expression and mannerism, whether fidgeting and fingering his waist coat, climbing a footstool using a braced leg because he cannot sit, or pouring pesticide down his pants to kill a flea, endears Clov to the audience.
Daniel's Clov finds his relationship with Hamm frustrating and horrifying. A compulsion that has been all he knows since the age of eight where he serves when his father whistles for him. These circumstances offer a glimpse into the delicate dance of verbally abusive relationships. Anyone who understands or works with abuse on any level will note this complex hate/love, almost addiction, to the abuser, which compels Clov to keep tending to Hamm--and then discovering the requisite courage to leave a father, and more importantly, an abuser, which can be almost impossible without support. These performances between gifted APT actors who have known and lived with each other over years become brilliant and beautiful to see unfold on stage despite the desperate dialogue and depressing environment set before the audience.
Equally compelling in smaller roles, the incomparable Sarah Day imbues Nell with a aged charm and emotion in a short scene, her costume designed by Rachel Laritz, almost similar to an angel in white.. As her counterpoint, a cantankerous John Pribyl plays her husband Nagg. Watching the two attempt to kiss across the steel boxes they're confined to will warm hearts, and compel the audience to consider mature love when age overcomes youth. The entire cast and technical crew (Scenic Designer, Nathan Stuber, Lighting Designer, Jesse Klug, Sound Designer and Original Music, Andre Pluess), add spectacular dimension to APT"s empowering Endgame.
Why does this Endgame become empowering? The audience might identify with one of these characters, somehow: mother, father, grandparents, son or child, at particular points in life. Is there desolation and despair or does Clov offer a remnant of hope near the final minutes? While choosing to see the very personal concerns Beckett provides on the aberrations of a an absurdist family, the greater apocalyptic fears to earth's ultimate destruction looms outside the playwright's sparse, wooden room
Perhaps millions of people feel this desolation and despair in their lives each day, a metaphorical representation of Beckett's Endgame, Where people live in tiny hovels or shacks, tents with no windows, across the globe or in central cities throughout America. Abuse, in multiple forms, cuts into class and economic status, and so Hamm's and Clov's relationship demonstrates the plausible push and pull, cleave or leave in their codependent world. The audience will struggle with this interpersonal relationship, now more knowable and visceral, than configuring the destruction of earth, the end of life, where crying, pain and suffering defines Beckett's premise that "there's no cure for living on earth."
Except Beckett offers a glimmer of hope through those broken windows and dirty room, when Clov speaks from the heart, believing in a small way why he served his father-"That's love-that's friendship-words to ponder and say something from the heart."
Perhaps the audience might believe after seeing this compelling Endgame as perhaps anyone has rarely seen this Beckett-that when someone speaks from the heart, life acquires meaning and the world acquires purpose. Suddenly there is something to say, and "all becomes simple and clear" as Posner wrote in the playbill regarding Endgame seen over several productions. When people speak to each other from the heart, these emotions ignite in the hearts of the others spoken to. Perhaps then people who cannot sit complement the people who cannot stand.
After leaving this compelling production, the audience might see beyond the despair and sympathize with Hamm and Clov, who spoke the words, "We are all obliged to each other." Using two definitions of the word obliged means "do or serve someone in order to help or please them" and "be indebted or grateful to another person."
Beckett reluctantly proposes in the depths of darkness obligation and love produce a ray of light that overcomes pain and suffering, where the world strives and refuses to abuse anyone or anyplace. This incredible APT Endgame might move the audience to rethink Beckett along with the people posited, for better or worse, in their own lives. Then reach deep into their hearts and express how to rematch these endgames with hope, so now or in the future, this play's circumstances will never happen or appear anywhere on earth.
American Players Theatre presents Samuel Beckett's ENDGAME at the Touchstone Theatre in Spring Green through the 2016 season. For further information on special events, performance schedules or to purchase tickets, please call:608.588.2631 or visit: www.americanplayerstheatre.org.