Thursday, May 08, 2008

Endgame (The SOB Review)

Endgame (The SOB Review) – Harvey Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

*** (out ****)

Admittedly, appreciation for modernist playwright Samuel Beckett’s existential body of work is an acquired taste.

But fortunately, for anyone venturing across the East River into the heart of Brooklyn to see Andrei Belgrader’s stirring and often witty revival of Endgame , they lay claim to having enjoyed nothing less than a certified must-see event.

Certainly, part of the allure is one of the year’s most impeccable casts -- including John Turturro (a natural born Hamm if there ever was one, Max Casella (who is nothing short of a revelation providing an inspired and nuanced Clov), Elaine Stritch (Hamm's mother Nell) and Alvin Epstein (one of Beckett’s foremost interpreters over the last fifty plus years as Nagg). There is no star-turn, to be sure. Instead, there's a playful patter among these wretched characters who aren't Waiting For Godot, but simply waiting for the inevitable end.

What a joy then to watch Epstein, one of Beckett's earliest Clovs, not so much chewing the scenery as gumming what little he can from his garbage-can duplex. His banter about the good old days with wife Nell is priceless, as is Stritches deadpan delivery of her line, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness." Whether stuck in a rut, or immobilized by a trash bin existence, this creepy family underscores why every moment deserves to be lived to its fullest.

I had the good fortune to be seated next to a proud Beckett aficionado, who professed to seeing many varying productions of Endgame. Upon the final curtain, he was thrilled to tell me that this was by far the best he’d ever seen. It was a bit surprising when this psychologist asked me why I was there. He figured that I must be like him: an English lit major.

But I was there because as a theatre fan, I wanted to be tested. And certainly this theatre of the absurd is like cramming for an exam as it demands your most minute attention to every little detail to unravel Beckett's sketchy intentions, which don't come easily.

Coincidentally, that same fan informed me that one of the worst productions of Endgame he had seen was devoid of any humor, essentially something sure to make you want to slit your wrists. Fortunately, Belgrader and his superb cast mine the depths of this Beckett work in which essentially nothing happens other than the long tortuous slog toward that only other thing in life that is as certain as taxes.

But by plumbing every word with what can only be described as a natural rhythmic fashion, Belgrader's cast succeeds in finding all of its ironic humor and humanity, making this a less cumbersome trial.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for ticket information.

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