Have A Laugh The World's Ending
By Samuel Beckett
Starring John Tuturro, Elaine Stritch
Playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Art
Reviewed by Cahir O'Doherty
IT all comes down to this in the end - you and your own mortality. And the irony is that even if you're surrounded you'll be on your own.
If that sounds bleak, well it is, but it can be strangely funny too. Irish playwright Samuel Beckett's Endgame - simply put, one of the greatest plays of the 20th century - asks us to confront our fear of death. It's Beckett's greatest work, and the new production at the Brooklyn Academy of Art (BAM) is about as perfect a rendering of the play as you are ever likely to witness.
Beckett made a career out of peering into the bottomless abyss at the edge of life and describing - unforgettably - what he saw there. Being Irish, he also had an occasional bleak chuckle from time to time.
Why not, he reasoned. What else is there to do? Nothing, says the greatest of all Irish playwrights, is funnier than unhappiness.
Inspired in part - it seems likely - by Shakespeare's The Tempest, Endgame begins where Shakespeare's final plays ends, with Prospero and Caliban, now called Hamm and Clov, dueling it out for the final word - and also trying to stave it off - because when you reach the end of the line all bets are off.
Set in a bare interior - is it a house, a castle or a tomb? - grey light fills the almost empty room and we are left to wonder where the play unfolds. The only thing we do know for certain is that during the play, something - the characters, the day, and even our own lives - is inching closer to its end.
"Something," says Clove, "is taking its course." The game is coming to its end.
In their respective roles screen actor John Turturro (Hamm) and Max Casella (Clov) are pitch perfect from start to finish. They bicker, struggle, laugh and weep in response to the unspeakable - the inevitable final destination we're all journeying to. Casella will be familiar to many from his role as Benny Fazio in HBO's The Sopranos, but as Clov he'll be unrecognizable from the wise guy he played.
The measure of Beckett's artistry is that he can present the despair that accompanies death in a play that often unfolds like a comedy. Pratfalls, repetition and exaggeration, all tools of the circus clown, are employed to great effect here too.
With material this dark, it's a delight to discover how much fun the author is having with his creations. It's a wonderful paradox that such a bleak theme can result in moments of connectedness, transcendence and even joy, but it certainly does.
Nagg and Nell, Hamm's aged parents, have literally been put into the trash. Legless but not drunk, they live out their final days between life and the dumpster.
The image could hardly be more literal. They've outlived their usefulness; their end is already within sight.
As played by Alvin Epstein and Elaine Stritch, two titans of the American theater, this flawless production captures the pathos and humor of their on-the-slagheap predicament so well that it occasionally leaves you breathless.
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