Endgame Review - Steppenwolfs' Production is Compelling and Challenging

On our way to see Steppenwolf Theatres’ current production, Endgame, we noticed a three-legged dog walking down the street, which, in an unusual way anticipated the three-legged stuffed dog in Endgame.

Hamm, blind and unable to walk on his moveable thrown

Continuing the 2009-2010 exploration of the theme of belief, Steppenwolf Theatre presents Endgame written by Samuel Beckett and directed by ensemble member Frank Galati.  It features ensemble members Ian Barford (Clov), Francis Guinan (Nagg), Martha Lavey (Nell) and William Petersen (Hamm).  This is theater with a capital “T”. Powerful acting and superb directing brings the audience into the strange world of Hamm, Clov, Nell and Nagg.  

The play takes place in one space in 75 minutes and is fascinating, humorous, compelling and challenging.  Ian Barford and William Petersen were riveting. Searching for a way to interpret the events in the play, a larger than usual group of audience members remained for the post show discussion. We suggest time for this be planned as part of the play because it enhances the performances and is almost as fascinating as the play itself.

Hamm and Clov, Clov follows orders

Endgame explores end of life- what is left, how to deal with it.  Beckett wrote this in French and translated it into English.  He was an avid chess player and the English title is taken from the last part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left.  He was unable to exactly translate the French title whose name applies to games other than chess.

In this absurd comic masterpiece we meet Hamm, a blind man unable to stand, he sits in a thrown on wheels.  His servant, Clov, can see but can’t sit. His parents, Nagg and Nell live in garbage cans, having lost their legs. The play seems to ask, “How does one find meaning in a world characterized by nothingness?”  Beckett did not believe that an answer to this was necessary.

Are Nell and Nagg discards?

Beckett fairly rigidly defines the staging and sets.  The curtain “unveils”,
the actors don’t have curtain call, window are set high.  Even if Beckett didn’t offer answers the audience may question where is this taking place?  What is the significance of Hamm commands, to Clov? Are Nagg and Nell discarded, living in their garbage cans? How does Hamm’s relate to Shakespeare? and much more.

There is speculation that without World War 11, Samuel Becketts’ most famous works, Waiting for Godot and Endgame might not have been because his life was so powerfully impacted by the war in many ways.  Before the war, he lived in Paris and assisted fellow Irishman, James Joyce on Finnegan’s Wake.  As a playwright, some of Becketts’ significance is his pioneering recognizable, colloquial dialogue and situations that were stripped of context.

Will Clov leave?

Endgame is fascinating, compelling and a puzzle.  Making sense of all the pieces is not unlike figuring out the endgame in a chess game.

Regular Run: $20-$77 Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11:00 a.m. on the day of each performance (1:00 p.m. for Sunday performances).  Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.  Student discounts available.

Steppenwolf Theatre
1650 N. Halsted,
312-335-1650, Online ticketing available at www.steppenwolf.org

Explore: the World of Endgame – Friday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m.  A free event in a new series celebrating the themes and ideas in our shows.  Explore involves an innovative artistic presentation reflecting show themes, participation from a Chicago community partner and a relaxed atmosphere with food, drink and live music.

The Endgame Wine Tasting Night:  Enjoy wine and food pairings from Vinci Restaurant while our DJ spins tunes in our balcony lobby:  Wednesday, April 21 at 6:00 p.m.  Tasting and performance cost $60 per person.  For tickets and additional information, contact Audience Services (use source code: 5824).

The Endgame MaTEENée performance for high school students will be held on Saturday, May 15 at 3:00 p.m.  Tickets cost $15 and include: a ticket to the performance, lunch and a post-show discussion with actors featured in the production – hosted by Steppenwolf’s Young Adults Council (use source code: 5847

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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