An essential key to mastering the acting craft is commitment to one’s character. Lesser actors, in roles designed not to overstrain their “talent”, mostly TV dramas, can “fudge” this facility and its absence will pass unnoticed by all but the most discerning eye. But an actor faces no greater demands on his talents than those the theater can impose. It can be argued, that it is the actor’s intelligence and commitment which the works of Shakespeare and Anton Chekov are dependent on for success. With the works of Samuel Beckett, however, one could contend it is only by the depth of an actor’s acute commitment, that such works can have existence.
Endgame is an impossible pandemonium of absurd melodrama and Vaudevillian tragedy, of chess metaphors and Biblical asides, of intratextual and intertextual referencing, a parable of puns, pain and poetry where the clownish antics seems to echo with the anguish of Job.
An audience is only able to enter into Beckett’s world thru the actor’s embrace of it, their passage into the play’s reality only assured when the performance of a skilled actor provides the portal. The able cast in director Paul Plunkett superb production of Endgame now at the Sacred Fools Theatre not only provides the audience with that portal, but they lay out the red carpet.
Plunkett prepares the audience for that crossing from the moment people step into the theater. On the hour exactly he snaps shut his trap. There will be neither intermission nor late seating. Blackness, then illumination. On stage a motionless form sits enthroned beneath sheets like shrouds. A second figure, thin with ankles raw and bloody, trembles by the only doorway, his eyes darting about with a feral restlessness. We are in the “corpsed” world of Hamm and Clov. This is a near perfect production of the work one of the greatest modern playwrights acknowledged as his most personally satisfying.
Director Paul Plunkett has presented theater as it should be. The cast is outstanding. So outstanding one suspects coming by them involved Plunkett signing a contract in blood while the stench of sulfur wafted about him. Leon Russon’s Hamm is the essence of the dying lion. As Clov, David Fraioli is Munch’s “The Scream” made flesh. His unnatural twisting movements are those of a marionette whose strings are tangled.
Less capable directors often misinterpret the squabbling between Hamm and Clov as verbal carpet bombing in some battle to the death, and so saturate their exchanges with thundering hatred. Plunkett avoided this misstep, recognizing that their discord is not warfare but a ritual of verbal dismantlement.
Hamm: You don’t love me.
Hamm: You loved me once.
Hamm: I’ve made you suffer too much. Haven’t I?
Clov: It’s not that.
Hamm: (shocked) I’ve haven’t made you suffer too much?
Hamm: (relieved) Ah you gave me a fright!
Kathy Bell Denton’s Nell is perfectly paired with Barry Ford’s Nagg as Hamm’s parents living out their days in a set of ash cans. In Denton, Ford, Fraioli and Russon one sees the alliance between actors and material at its best.
Tifanie McQueen the production designer and Matt Richter the lighting designer have devised a set that veils the usual paraphernalia which catching sight of would remind one they are in a playhouse. We see only a grim grey interior flawless in its starkness. Taken all together Paul Plunkett and the Sacred Fools Company have mounted the most laudable staging of a Beckett play to be seen in Los Angeles for years.
But what’s it all about? Beckett himself took pains never to explain his works. Some take Endgame at the face value of its title, identifying the characters with chess pieces. In Clov’s patterned movements they see the knight, Nagg and Nell as two opposing pawns and Hamm, of course, as the harried king. But what Beckett affirms in Endgame with a greater clarity than any writer before or since, is the fundamental trait which defines what it means to be human. That no matter where we find ourselves, man exists in his dependency on man. That no matter where, no matter with whom, we must form relationships.
In a dead, decaying world, within a structure that is both shelter and tomb, blind, crippled and dictatorial Hamm is confined with his lame, intractable lackey Clov. We watch them belittle, degrade and denounce one another. Yet beneath their abuse you sense their compassion for the pain of the other is tangible.
Plunkett’s direction is exceptional from start to finish, and he ends the piece as he began, by plunging us into blackness. And for that brief moment before the house lights flare up to usher our departure, Hamm’s words resonate within us: “You cried for night; it comes – It falls; now cry in darkness.”
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame
Sacred Fools Theater
660 N. Heliotrope Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
March 18 thru April 23
Friday & Saturday 8:00
Sunday April 10 & 17 7:00