Review: PICT’s ‘Endgame’

By Bob Hoover

In these times of war, plague, drought, wildfires, and domestic conflict, can we handle the despair of Samuel Beckett? Then again, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”

Considering all that’s happening, Alan Stanford‘s choice of Beckett’s Endgame, which opened May 13, is an inspired choice. Four characters trapped in a room and in lives of endless repetition seem like a Covid-19 quarantine scenario.

Outside, death lurks in a nothingness where there is no “nature,” much like the fire-ravaged areas in the West.

First staged in 1957, when the United States and the Soviet Union were rattling their nuclear sabers, Endgame’s world was much like the aftermath of war. Today, another Russian threatens to use nuclear weapons over the destroyed landscape of Ukraine.

In this season of political primaries, should we ask, “Why this farce from day to day?”

Stanford, PICT’s artistic director, stages the work of his fellow Irishman in its traditional unembellished manner and slow pace. Time does indeed standstill in its single act, stretching more than an hour and 45 minutes. Endgame can be stultifying at times, nearing states of boredom and frustration, but saved by Beckett’s powerful language.

Martin Giles, fresh from his role as Poirot in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Murder on the Orient Express, bravely takes on the thankless Hamm, the paralyzed, blind bully at the center of Endgame.

“Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished,” Hamm announces at the beginning of a play that is not finished at all. Trapped in a clumsy wheelchair, Giles is a dominating presence in the bleak scene while staying immobile.

His only movement is supplied by the crippled Clov, played grimly by James Fitzgerald, acting in constant pain and confusion, who moves Hamm’s chair around the walls of their crumbling world.

The character of Clov is equal to that of Hamm, trapped in his own way, constantly threatening to leave, but without the will to go.

Hamm’s parents are the truly discarded Nagg (Ken Bolden) and Nell (Karen Baum), who live in trash cans. They are legless and pathetic, but with flashes of affection and happy memories of an earlier time. Nell’s part is small, but Nagg hangs around, poking his head up now and then in hopes of a “sugar plum.”

PICT’s Endgame presents Beckett’s nihilism and language so effectively that it’s tough to feel optimistic once the curtain is drawn across the Fred Rogers Theater in WQED’s Oakland headquarters.

Stanford directs with assurance, and his cast responds well to his direction.

Endgame is a chilling dive into hopelessness where no light shines to lead us out of the darkness.

Endgame runs through May 28. For more info and tickets visit : https://www.picttheatre.org/play/endgame/ or call 412-561-6000. Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

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