Belonging to the movement known as Theater of the Absurd, “Endgame” does not have a traditional plot. Instead, characteristic to the style, the piece is cyclical – it starts where it ends, and repetitive – in words and action.
On a minimalist stage that follows closely the stage directions of the playwright – two small windows, a picture hanging on the wall facing backwards, etc. – four characters (Hamm, Clov, Nagg, and Nell) carry a conversation that seems at times nonsensical but that at once relates to the audience the communication breakdown between them.
Everyone in “Endgame” is in a hopeless situation – Nagg and Nell have no legs, Hamm is blind and cannot stand up, Clov cannot get out of his meaningless routine and is not able to sit down. For a reason not explained, they are isolated in a doomed world with nothing to do but to wait for the end.
Beckett, prominent writer of the Theater of the Absurd, explores in this play the belief that human existence has no meaning other than what each individual gives to it, and of the easiness with which a life can fall into despair.
“You’re on Earth. There’s no cure for that,” he writes, and “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness… it’s the most comical thing in the world,” says his character Nell. Although the tone of the play is tragic, the characters find humor in their plight, and they deliver it with sarcasm. The dialogue sounds at times like philosophy, although Beckett did not believe himself a philosopher.
At A Noise Within, Hamm is played by artistic director Geoff Elliott. For 90-minutes without an intermission, Elliott delivers lines in an impressive demonstration of his professional craft, along with Jeremy Rabb as Clov, Mitchell Edmonds as Nagg, and Jill Hill as Nell. Elliott’s performance actually starts the moment he joins the stage, which will in itself surprise you.
This is a sober play that leaves you wondering what exactly was accomplished, and yet, that is precisely its purpose. “All life long, the same questions, the same answers,” says Hamm; perhaps Beckett’s main message.
“Endgame” will be playing until November 23. Tickets range $50 to $58. See www.anoisewithin.org A Noise Within is at 3352 East Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena.
Geoff Elliott (Hamm) and Jeremy Rabb (Clov) – Craig Schwartz photos