Beckett to the abyss: Your move

ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett. Directed and designed by Nicholas Linfield. At the Boston Arts Group.

Endgame is, of course, about the end -- the play distills Beckett's bleak vision of a moribund world in which humanity, drained of ambition and denied fulfillment, still struggles against the silence. But the play is also a game in which that barren reality is likened to the theatrical process -- what is a better mirror of nature, from Beckett's point of view, than a bare stage where nothing happens? It is this self-referential aspect that dominates the Boston Arts Group's oddly (though not inappropriately) mechanical production.

While detailing Clov and Hamm's dull, daily routine, Endgame creates itself as it goes along, incessantly challenging its existence as theater. "We're getting on," says Hamm; later, "We're not beginning to mean something, are we?; still later, like a Beckettian memo, "Me to play: We're almost finished." Clov asks what's to keep him there; Hamm replies, "The dialogue." And the dialogue is all; there isn't even the pretense of action. After all, what can any character actually do onstage? Stand, sit. Talk, listen. Enter, exit. Climb stepladder, play with toy dog. Anything else would be pushing it. Faking it. By limiting his action to that which is physically doable in the theater, Beckett makes of his stage world a microcosm for his metaphysical one; in each, man struggles, but the struggle is pointless.

There is much more to Endgame -- the interdependence of Clov and Hamm, Hamm's love and resentment of his parents, Nagg and Nell, dying in their ashbins -- and this is by no means ignored in the BAG production. Director Nicholas Linfield, however, ever so slightly stresses the play's self-consciousness. And there are some stylized tricks (Clov's jerky robot-like trot, several striking frozen tableaux) that makes this an Endgame more for the head than for the heart, which is unusual and not uninteresting. Linfield himself plays Hamm, which proves a mistake. His performance lacks both shape and feeling; it is the production's soft center. The other actors, however, are fine -- Roger Curtis as Clov, David Watson as Nagg, and (especially) Karen Ross as Nell. 

Boston Phoenix, June 1978