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A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
Endgame is a play fraught with contradictions. The script probably has more explicit directions from the playwright than any other play one can think of, yet execution of those instructions does not guarantee the intended result. It is also a play that presents a microscopic investigation of the human soul (as Beckett sees it), while almost wholly lacking in humanity. None of these or other contradictions would disturb Beckett.
I reviewed another production of Endgame in 2005 (review linked below). The common element in the production is Alvin Epstein's Nagg. In the earlier production, I described Epstein's performance as "a portal to observing how it was meant to be done", adding that "Epstein's every sound and every move is a revelation." Thus it remains, and the generally satisfying performance of John Turturro as Hamm only serves to underscore the nuance in what Epstein brings that Turturro does not. For in Epstein, we find a performance that does not seek to solve Beckett's unavoidable contradictions, but rather to have them co-exist in parallel universes of the spoken and the unspoken. While Clov (portrayed here with ample physicality by Max Casella) expresses a pining for a "world where all would be silent and still and each thing in its last place," to Beckett, silence relieves nothing.
Epstein proves that as no one else does. Make no mistake: this is a very fine, well-directed production. But the extra dimension absent in all of the other performances is manifest. Having said that, Turturro has the voice and acting skill, and shows both off well here. His presence in this production is certainly validated well beyond his celebrity. Casella provides a sophisticated performance, including excellent mime and very respectable delivery of his easy-to-underestimate text. The bold casting here is Elaine Stritch as Nagg; she is a pleasure to see in a role no one would have expected, and acquits Nagg well without doting on her own persona as one might be concerned she would.
Much credit for the feel of this production is owed to Anita Stewart, who has managed, in a way I have never seen before, to rein in the vastness of BAM's Harvey space in order to render the show with remarkable intimacy. Michael Chybowski's lights do their job without making the mistake of trying to do anything more, and Candice Donnelly's costumes nicely follow the stated intentions of Mr. Beckett. Andrei Belgarder has toyed with a few moments beyond the Beckett catechism, with pleasant and, to me at least, non-deleterious effect. I can't quite say, however, why the show managed to consume an extra quarter hour than it sometimes does, but it probably would have been better had it not.
Although there are several reasons to see this production, anyone even vaguely interested in Beckett ought to see Epstein while they can; it's a master class of the highest order.
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