A bare interior. In the center, the absolute center, sits Hamm (John Douglas Thompson), covered in an old sheet. Clov (Bill Irwin) enters, draws open the curtains, and removes the sheet. On stage right, Hamm’s legless parents, Nagg (Joe Grifasi) and Nell (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) live in separate dustbins. Despite a “stiff, staggering walk,” Clov takes care of these three. He is unable to sit, they are unable to stand. Hamm is, well, a ham, pontificating from his chair, paraphrasing Hamlet (“I hesitate to…to end”) and Richard III (“My kingdom for a nightman!”) and quoting Prospero (“Our revels now are ended”) within the space of a single act.
Still, the bit is old, and both Hamm and Clov act more out of habit than feeling. “Have you not had enough?” he asks early in the play. It is as if Gogo and Didi from Waiting for Godot had aged twenty years, their infirmities advanced, their affection for one another lost. “You don’t love me,” Hamm says. Clov: “No.” “You loved me once,” he continues. “Once!” cries Clov. A vague, apocalyptic event keeps them here together. According to Hamm, “Outside here it’s death.”
The revival of Endgame currently running at the Irish Rep is led by a stellar four-person cast. Thompson, a Shakespearean, slides easily into Hamm, and he appears to relish the parody. Grifasi and Chevannes radiate energy from their dustbins, offering a portrait of a marriage and a lifetime in only a few minutes of stage time. Only Irwin is under-utilized; as a professional clown and an actor who has spent a lifetime thinking about Beckett, he seems perfect for Clov. He isn’t given much to do here.
It isn’t his fault. The production is a little lethargic, and except for the dialogue between Nagg and Nell, the action drags. Perhaps it is missing a clear vision from director Ciarán O’Reilly. This Endgame is entertaining but respectful and often monotonous theater.
Endgame runs through April 16th at the Irish Repertory Theatre. 132 West 22nd Street New York, NY. 1 hour 25 minutes. No intermission. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.