Endgame was written by an Irishman, originally in French, and later translated to English. One may think this an explanation for the odd, surreal quality of the play. But then you realize the playwright is Samuel Beckett, considered a mainstay of the Theatre of the Absurd style, and that’s just how he rolled.
Despite the mysteriously hard times in which the characters are living — post-nuclear apocalypse? flood, fire or famine? — this one-act play is peppered with many laugh-out-loud moments.
In the physically demanding role of Clov, the long-suffering servant, Brian Harwell evokes a cross between Igor and a droll English butler. With hunched posture and a halting gait, he contributes great moments of physical humor to the show along with an admirable ability to maintain this contortion of his body. Here’s hoping he arranges for a massage after each show.
As his master, Hamm, who is blind and unable to walk, Tom Hinshaw masterfully portrays this imperious and arrogant, but vulnerable, tyrant. He arbitrarily gives orders and makes grand proclamations, but also seems painfully aware that none of them has long to live.
His parents live in matching trash bins to one side of the stage. David Brainard is the growlingly petulant and dour Nagg, and Julie Anne Ruggieri is Nell, the smallest part but no less well-played, entirely convincing in her dreamy-eyed nostalgic moments recounting a happier time.
It has been suggested that Hamm represents the hammer while the other three characters the nails, their names all being variants of the word — clou (French), nagel (German) and Nell for its similar sound to the English word.
The venue, an actual mortuary but more resembling a small, gothic church, is well-suited. The interior, with its wood paneling and high, arched windows, brings to mind an archaic abbey or castle. Hamm’s chair on wheels resembles a throne, and he wears robes like a king, even further cementing the image.
Genesis West debuted in 1998, headed by Lord, and is dedicated to the work of contemporary playwrights. With such recent triumphs as The Fever by Wallace Shawn, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Curse of the Starving Class, this company has earned the respect of the local theater community as well as many awards.
Take the opportunity to see this compelling site-specific work of theater by a master playwright featuring fine local actors. It is a challenging work, but highly enjoyable. You won’t be sorry in the end.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.