Endgame from the Irish Repertory Livestream

Bill Irwin and John Douglas Thompson Star

By: - Apr 14, 2023

Irish Repertory Theatre
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Ciaran O'Reilly
With Bill Irwin, John Douglas Thompson, Joe Grifasi, Patrice Johnson Chevannes

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is enjoying a must-see run at the Irish Repertory Theatre.  Starring Bill Irwin, the clown and Beckett aficionado, as Clov and John Douglas Thompson as Hamm, here uncharacteristically for Thompson, the “insider.”  He is bound to a wheelchair, blind and dependent on painkillers, yet the clear force of the moment. Clov lurches around him. 

Beckett when directing would tell actors to feel flames bursting and burning to ashes only to rise again.  Irwin and Thompson give us this feel: they burst and burn.

Waiting for Godot may have been the foremost Beckett play of the 20th century. Endgame is surely a perfect match for our darkening 21st.  “Nature has forgotten us,” says Clov. And Hamm retorts, “There is no more nature.”   

Beckett liked Endgame best.  He called it the play he disliked least.  He wrote that Endgame was more inhuman than Godot.  It had the power to “claw.” We don't wait as in Godot. Instead one day is dying. We hear the familiar repetition of words, phrases and gestures. Lines are both tragic and comic. Thompson, left only with word and gesture because he can not move, choreographed his performance perfectly. 

Endgame is the musical theater as words and silences. It is in 4/4 time. All the characters have four-letter names. Clov exits and enters 16 times. For Beckett, before articulation comes song.  Music creates the world and is poetic. Words suggest a poverty-stricken vocabulary because they are material. 

Beckett launched his directing career with a production of Endgame at the Schiller Theater in Berlin in 1967. Horst Bollmann who played Clov remarked that Beckett was a musician, preoccupied with choreography and rhythms. The sound of steps can be used as percussion.  Irwin gives us the beat at the Irish Rep. He is also still, or hurling his limp leg over the top of a ladder from which he tries to see the outside world from time-to-time. He is funny, but in an uncomfortable way.

The play opens with the same tableau it ends with, or does not end.  We are going into a world upside down and inside out. We hear the sound of curtains opening and of the garbage pails in which Hamm’s parents, now only stumps, vegetate. They will bicker and reminisce about happier days on Lake Como.  

The first line of the play is Hamm's: “Finished. It’s finished. Nearly finished. It must be nearly finished.” We’ve just begun and the play is over.

 As for meaning, we are left hungering for it.  Clov asks: "What is it? "And Hamm: “We’re not mean something."  Clov: "Mean something! You and I mean something!" (Brief laugh and we laugh too uncomfortably);  "Ah that’s a good one!"

The actors capture the mutual dependency of master and slave.  They are drawn by opposite impulses: blindness and sight, motion and standstill. Hamm asks at one point: "Why do you stay with me? "And Clov responds: "Why do you keep me?"

Yet this is not a play about meaning. We desire meaningful expression but have to accept its impossibility, and this generates a musical effect.

The line Beckett declared to be most important: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” is given to Nell, Hamm’s mother.  Her great charm is portrayed by Patrice Johnson Chevannes. Even her frustrated kiss is a delight. Joe Griafsi portrays her husband Nagg empathetically: we so want him to get the promised sugar plum, which will never materialize.  

This play in which we play the never-ending game of ending is, if not a delight, riveting theater, with chuckles here and there and a deep sense of continuing.  

You leave the theater on a curiously hopeful note.  Unhappiness may be the funniest thing in life, as Beckett has said.  We can laugh at the line. 

Scenic Design by Charlie Corcoran
Costume Design by Orla Long
Lighting Design by Michael Gottlieb
Original Music and Sound Design by M. Florian Staab

Tickets here.  

Friday, April 14, at 8 PM

Saturday, April 15, at 2 PM

Saturday, April 15, at 7 PM

Sunday, April 16, at 3 PM