Donate

KQED e-Newsletters

Newsletters

Get regular updates on great programs and events

Please leave this field empty

More from KQED

Theater Review

'Endgame' and 'Play' at A.C.T.

Large Image

As I sit here writing about Samuel Beckett's Endgame and Play, through June 3, 2012, at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, the moon is obliterating the sun, transforming the usual late-afternoon rays that filter through the trees in our modest backyard into an almost-smoky, definitely eerie, haze. It seems a fitting bit of atmospherics for these gloomy, highly stylized, one-act investigations of death, hopelessness and infidelity.

Up first is Play, which only runs 25 minutes but by design is meant to feel longer. As we meet Annie Purcell, a philandering husband's mistress, Anthony Fusco as the cad and René Augesen as his wife, they are up to their necks in funeral urns and speaking simultaneously, so their words blur to an unintelligible mush. We will soon hear each player's side of the story (twice!) when cued by an interrogating spotlight, but for now their explanations, confessions and complaints are literally so much noise.


From left to right, Annie Purcell as W2, Anthony Fusco as M and René Augesen as W1 in Samuel Beckett's Play. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Give the actors credit for doing a lot with little more than their voices and facial muscles. Bound by the confines of her urn, Augesen manages to convey the plight of a woman scorned, whose case is undermined by her sense victimhood and garden-variety entitlement (she was there first, which automatically makes her adversary a slut). Fusco doesn't seem to genuinely care for either one of the objects of his alleged affections, but he's a man who just can't help himself, uncomfortable, to paraphrase the great Groucho Marx, by being a member of any club that would have him as a member. Purcell is the most animated of the trio, but she, too, is trapped, less by the urn than her desire to triumph over any form of female competition. What's love got to do with all of this? When it comes to triangles in Beckett-land, not bloody much.

In Play, at least everyone's getting laid. In Endgame, nothing happens at all. Okay, some people finally die, while the one whose bilious flame you wish would be extinguished more quickly doesn't. That would be Bill Irwin's wheelchair-bound and blind, Hamm, an especially insufferable creation, even by Beckett standards. Irwin's body language is wonderful, as he curls and contorts himself in his makeshift wheelchair, his John Lennon granny glasses hiding his useless eyes, but the voice he gives to this ultimately unsympathetic blowhard ("Can there be misery loftier than mine," he pronounces early on in the 85-minute play) cracks, rises and falls like a baritone version of Professor Frink on The Simpsons. I was completely sold by his physicality, but I could have done without the shticky lizard-action of his tongue and the vocal shenanigans, which pulled too much focus from Beckett's words.

Better was Nick Gabriel as Clov, the thick-headed servant who jumps to attention whenever his master blows his piercing whistle and grudgingly carries out the beast's endlessly persnickety demands. I liked Gabriel's frustration with Hamm (it was the only interaction between characters that felt human and real), as well as his Chaplin-esque relationship with objects, especially the ladder, which he is forever opening and closing to give his master vicarious views through each of their shared prison's two windows, one of which looks out over an apparently bleak landscape, the other pointing toward the sea. "This is not much fun," Hamm complains at one point. No kidding. "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," he opines a few minutes later. Sorry, Sam, but I think we learn more from real clowns than ones thrust into roles requiring them to be noble and profound.


Giles Havergal (left) is Nagg and Barbara Oliver is Nell in Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Rounding out the cast are Giles Havergal and Barbara Oliver as Nagg and Nell, Hamm's parents, who are consigned to live out their old age in 55-gallon metal drums, which, we learn, were once bedded with sawdust but are now filled with dirty sand. They have earned their purgatory due to the neglect of their monster of a child, so when they expire by not popping up like prairie dogs in their metal holes, we sort of don't care, which I guess means that Beckett has us right where he wants us.

Endgame and Play run through June 3, 2012, at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit act-sf.org.

More on Performance

The Latest on KQED Arts

Theater Review | Apr 15, 2014

Doctor Faustus Gives Hamlet a Schooling in Witty 'Wittenberg'

Martin Luther, Hamlet and Doctor Faustus prove an irresistible combination for a college comedy. By Sam Hurwitt  

Multimedia | Apr 14, 2014

Here's to the Late Adopters

Sometimes it's OK to wait for the bugs to get worked out before jumping into new tech. By Emily Eifler  

Music | Apr 14, 2014

What Is Up With BottleRock 2014?

If I could use only one word to describe the 2014 edition of the Napa Valley wine, food and rock festival's eclectic rundown of artists (based on the opinions I've heard voiced and, to a lesser extent, my own) it would be: huh? By T.J. Mimbs  

Literature | Apr 13, 2014

Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson: Q+A with Maira Kalman

Author and illustrator Maira Kalman latest book, Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything, is a whimsical and hypnotic look into one Founding Father's life and accomplishments. By Ingrid Rojas Contreras  

Performance | Apr 12, 2014

The Sean Keane Exit Interview

Last month, Sean Keane, one of San Francisco's top standup comedians, announced that he is moving to Los Angeles in May. Before letting him board that 'Greyhound of the Skies' flight to Bob Hope Airport, it seemed only fitting to subject him to that most ignominious of employment traditions: the exit interview. By Anthony Bedard  

Performing Arts

Also on KQED.org this week ...

The New Environmentalists: From Chicago to Karoo
KQED Celebrates the Earth

April 22 is Earth Day, but KQED is celebrating our planet all month long. Tune in for special programs, attend special events, and find more resources online.

View of a dry Mt. Diablo from Briones Regional Park in the East Bay. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)
Where's the Rain?

KQED covers news about California's drought, offers water-saving tips, and more.