ENDGAME (1995)
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a play
by Samuel Beckett

directed by ANDREW J. ROBINSON

Allan Arbus and Mitchell Ryan as "Nagg"
Robin Gammell and Charles Hallahan as "Hamm"
Gregory Itzin and Cotter Smith as "Clov"
Audra Lindley and Claudette Sutherland as "Nell"

- WINNER, 1995 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award:
Direction (Andrew J. Robinson)
Lead Performance (Charles Hallahan)


Variety, Thursday, June 15, 1995
by Christopher Meeks

The plays of Samuel Beckett are often thought of as literary castor oil -- they're good for you, even if they're difficult to get down. The Matrix Theatre Company's production of "Endgame," however, reveals Beckett's greatness. The extraordinarily acted and well-directed production brings out the lyrical language, imagery and surprising humor behind Beckett's profound sense of futility.

"Endgame" has a sense of plotlessness that's similar to his "Waiting for Godot," a sense of being lost in time and place and purpose.

The play revolves around a blind and paralyzed Hamm (Charles Hallahan), whose mind constantly questions his existence.  Hamm is tirelessly attended to by Clov (Gregory Itzin), whose legs cannot bend. A few arm-lengths away, Hamm's legless parents, Nagg (Mitchell Ryan) and Nell (Audra Lindley), live in a dumpster.

Hamm does the same things every day: converse, have Clov wheel him around the room, and have Clov relate what's out the windows. Repetition is existence.  This day, however, is different because something has happened. "Something is taking its course." They are living out their last days.  One can, in fact, infer that these people may be the remnants of a post-nuclear disaster.

The cast has an impeccable sense of timing, often of the comic variety, which makes the work accessible to an audience. For instance, when Hamm asks if a three-legged stuffed dog is gazing at him — as if that matters — Clov moves the dog's head to make it so. Perfect.

As Hamm, Hallahan rules the roost in a gray beard and disintegrating red silk robe. His need to be in the exact center is hilarious — and ironic considering how the characters' lives have no center.

Itzin's Clov makes a good foil. His sense of aggressiveness gives one a vague hope of deliverance — that not all is decay, but that nature, somehow, will triumph.

Ryan and Lindley show the parents as accepting of their condition - and perhaps closer to its inevitability than Hamm. "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," Nell says.

Director Andrew Robinson triumphs as he sticks close to Beckett's extensive stage directions and in the end gives meaning to the definition of "absurd": the quality or condition of living in a meaningless and irrational world.

As with previous Matrix shows, the play has been double cast. Robin Gammell (Hamm), Cotter Smith (Clov), Allan Arbus (Nagg) and Claudette Sutherland (Nell) also play the roles. Different combinations will make for different casts.

Also top-notch is Mathew C. Jacobs' set design, whose cinder blocks and mottled beige coloring look as if they're stolen from an alley. The lighting by Doc Ballard and the costume and makeup design by Cara Varnell appropriately reinforce the grimness.

L.A. Times, Thursday, June 15, 1995
by Laurie Winer

• Theater review: Samuel Beckett's meditation on the end of the metaphoric day resonates with meaningful meaninglessness.

"I could be bounded in a nutshell, and I count myself a king of infinite I space—were it not that I have bad dreams," said Hamlet. Hamm, the tattered protagonist of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" is the king of that nutshell. He reigns in a concrete basement, in a filthy robe that was once royal red. He is attended by his vexed servant Clov and annoyed by two ancient, dusty parents, Nagg and Nell. They pop up occasionally from the trash bin in which they live, sucking on dog biscuits.

How is it that Beckett can be so bleak and so funny at the same time? This is one of the great mysteries of modern drama, and it is available for contemplation at the Matrix Theatre, where "Endgame," in all of its weirdly funny glory, runs until July 2.

As usual, the Matrix double-casts the play, reshuffling actors from night to night. If you see the cast I saw, you won't want it to. Charles Hallahan plays Hamm, whose pompous stateliness is reminiscent of Jackie Gleason, if he were blind, grimy, chair-bound and capable of taking joy from cruelty. With insouciance, he folds a bloody head rag into a hankie, which he pops into his robe pocket. Nothing is flair but thinking makes it so—as Hamlet might have said.

Hallahan's Hamm is a big, bossy, mean baby of a man, but human, very human. He asks the air, with self-pitying nobility, "Can there be misery loftier than mine?" His rhetorical question gives him pleasure.

But the contemplation of his own mortality bores him. He yawns extravagantly. "And yet," he says, "I hesitate to end."

Alan Schneider, the original director of many of Beckett's plays, wrote that "Waiting for Godot" is about an expected arrival that never comes and "Endgame" about a departure that remains only anticipated. For Hamm and the other characters, "Endgame" is the stretch of time, near the end of the metaphoric day, when we wait for death but go on doing our meaningless chores. Yet every tight sentence in the play resonates with meaning. Meaningful "meaninglessness: Beckett is the master of this fundamental semiotic paradox.

Schneider called Clov an automaton, but that is not how Gregory Itzin plays him. Lean and . expressive, he is Laurel to Hallahan's Hardy, straining to be patient with his capricious master. His face changes from exasperation to outrage to sudden kindness. Because he can see but can't be seen by his blind master, his expressions are pure, unadulterated by the expectation of someone else's perception.

Itzin shows us that Clov's predicament is actually richer than Hamm's. He has more to do and more information to process. His load is heavier. Itzin's rubber face resembles several other great clowns. In the final scene, in his hat and traveling bag, he looks like Ray Bolger. His hesitations have the pregnancy of Buster Keaton's. There is a classic quality about him.

Director Andrew Robinson also gets a fine, lamenting Nell from Audra Lindley. And Mitchell Ryan is very funny as the crusty old dad Nagg, demanding one minute, cringing and servile the next, coated in dust. The alternate cast features Robin Gammell as Hamm, Allan Arbus as Nagg, Claudette Sutherland as Nell and Cotter Smith as Clov. (A review of this cast will run next week.)

I'm at a loss to describe why Hamm, the blind, mean, fat guy, is so touching. He sits on his decrepit little throne, with a pathetic stuffed dog made out of rags and socks collapsed at his feet, grandly holding a staff, a bloody rag peeking from his pocket. He smells, as Lear said, of mortality. "You're on Earth, there is no cure for that!" Hamm notes, with perfect accuracy, and with a certain inexplicable satisfaction. It's true, there is no cure for that. But at least there is Beckett.

Follow-up review - Thursday, June 22, 1995

The Matrix Theatre has a policy of mixing and matching its casts, as it does in its smart new production of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame."

In a performance seen Friday night, Robin Gammell played the lord of the manor, Hamm, as a chatty wisecracker.  He's less grandiose than the other Hamm - Charles Hallahan - who fills the stage with puffed-up nobility.

Consequently, the play's focus shifted a bit, particularly to Allan Arbus' Nagg, Hamm's crotchety, much abused dad. Hamm promises Nagg a sugarplum if he will listen to an interminable story.  Arbus was very funny as he pretended to listen, poised halfway between impatience and despair, fighting the tedious certainty that the sugarplum would never materialize.  This is a playlet in itself.

Under Andrew Robinson's direction, Cotter Smith's Clov has the same physical tics as when Gregory Itzin plays him, but Smith's Clov is a bit more of a lost soul.  As the old mother who longs for yesterday, Claudette Sutherland's Nell is unsentimentally sad.

The cast is reshuffled nightly, but this is a deck with a lot of strong cards.  It's hard to imagine a bad hand.

L.A. Weekly - Theater Pick of the Week
by Lovell Estell III

Samuel Beckett's comi-tragedies invite and challenge interpretation. In spite of their singularly despairing vision, there are rich veins of poetry, symbolism and metaphor always at work, as well as a sense of humor that's almost lethal in its cynicism. Endgame is a brilliant piece of writing about four wretched characters who share a purposeless existence in a world on its last gasp. Two of these figures, Nagg and Nell (Mitchell Ryan and Audra Lindley) live in trash cans. Their son, Hamm (the masterful Charles Hallahan), is the bloodied, moribund king of this realm who sits on a beastly parody of a throne. As he is unable to move, his capricious needs are slavishly served by Clov (Gregory Itzin), in a humorous ritual of servitude. In Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a significant arrival is anticipated. But here, the characters await their thoroughly insignificant departure. This static play, if not staged with imagination and care, can easily implode into tedium. But director Andrew Robinson has avoided that pitfall with the help of a stellar cast and a disciplined, artful mining of the play's comic dimensions. Mathew Jacobs' industrial-back-alley set design, complete with a full-size dumpster, subtly evokes the barren, apocalyptic milieu in which the play's squalid, eerie characters find themselves so hopelessly trapped. Like other productions by this company, a rotating cast offers a different ensemble each night. But it's hard to imagine how the combination of performers on the night I attended could be more nuanced or affecting.

Read Double Casting Coups, a TheaterWeek article about the
double-casting of "Endgame," "The Tavern" and "The Seagull"

Producer: Joseph Stern
Set Designer: Matthew C. Jacobs
Lighting Designer: Doc Ballard
Costume Designer: Cara Varnell
Production Stage Manager: Kevin White

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