endgame— (pause) a review of it. (pause) by the playwright Samuel Beckett. (pause)

perhaps I shouldn’t have started with what is commonly considered Beckett’s masterwork; but, I’m glad I didn’t.

other than having seen a film adaptation of “waiting for godot,” I’m completely unfamiliar with the work of Samuel Beckett.  I know that he’s irish, a nobel prize winner, and a champion (perhaps, founder?) of the theater of the absurd, but I’m not familiar with any of his other works.

over memorial day weekend, I went stoop sale-ing in order to find some cheap garments, books, cds, etc.   I came across a copy of “endgame,” and realizing that I hadn’t read Beckett before, bought it for two dollars.

I read it in one sitting—not a feat, considering that it’s only 84 pages, with a mime entitled “act without words” clocking in at a teensy 5 pages.  from what I have gathered, it’s a tale about four people (hamm, a blind invalid; clov, a submissive young man with the inability to sit; nagg, a brutish head in a jar, father to hamm; nell, wife of nagg, also a head) that hate each other living in a house on the brink of oblivion.  either nuclear holocaust or the end of days or what have you.

it’s different from most plays I’m used to.  for starters, there’s a pause after almost every line of dialogue, written specifically in the dialogue.  coupled with that, the dialogue almost makes no sense.  text go:

NAGG:
   Could you not?
   (Pause.)
   Would you like me to scratch you?
   (Pause.)
   Are you crying?

NELL:
   I was trying.
   (Pause.)

HAMM:
   Perhaps it’s a little vein.
   (Pause.)

I’m not entirely sure why the pauses are so frequent.  I could surmise that the characters just simply hate each other and are trying to cling to their humanity by making small talk, but that interpretation doesn’t seem realistic.  it seems more like they’re just trying to pass, day by day, and bicker amongst themselves in order to feel alive.  as hamm says upon hearing that nagg is crying, “…he’s living.”

what is undeniable is the humor of the piece.  it’s very quick, dry, intensely sardonic humor, but it occasionally had me burst out in laughter.  mostly nagg; nagg is the comic glue that holds the piece together.  he has the ability to turn his child-like behavior on and off, when it seems warranted, in order to get what he wants out of each situation.  of course, he always fails, which brings even more levity into the situation: 

NAGG:
   I want me Pap!

HAMM:
   Give him a biscuit.
   (Exit Clov.)
   Accursed fornicator!  How are your stumps?

NAGG:
  Nevermind me stumps.
  (Enter Clov with biscuit)

CLOV:
   I’m back again, with the biscuit.
  (He gives biscuit to Nagg, who fingers it, sniffs it.)

NAGG (plaintively): 
   What is it?

CLOV:
   Spratt’s medium.

NAGG (as before):
   It’s hard!  I can’t!

again, with the egregious amount of nonstandard English diction rife in “endgame,” it’s a tough cookie to crack; but if you just allow the piece to run its course and not question it, it becomes even funnier.  like a joke your heard other people tell who would then uproar into gasping laughter, you’ll just want to join in to feel like you’re conscious of the humor, too.

the message I still haven’t quite figured out, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to.  “endgame” is first and foremost an experimental piece, delving into the psyche of the deranged and attempting to discern humor therein.  it almost feels like a character study, which, in my mind, makes it even more interesting theatre—studying and playing simultaneously.

give it a shot.

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