(Right) Hamm (Bill Irwin, left) and his servant, Clov (A.C.T. core acting company member Nick Gabriel), in Samuel Beckett's Endgame.

(Left) Nagg (Giles Havergal, left) and Nell (Barbara Oliver) in Samuel Beckett's Endgame.

(Above)A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell (left), A.C.T. core acting company member Anthony Fusco (center), and A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen (right) in Samuel Beckett's Play. American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, June 3, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

ENDGAME game and PLAY: Drama. By Samuel Beckett. Directed by Carey Perloff.. American Conservatory Theater (ACT), 415 Geary St., San Francisco. (415) 749-2228 or


If you are a Beckett aficionado read no further, since this reviewer has been labeled a philistine in regard to his plays. Last year at Cal Shakes we were subjected to Happy Days where the protagonist, by the time the curtain descended, ends up buried to her chin in a pile of garbage. Fortunately the very brilliant actor, Patty Gallagher, made the evening spell binding if not entertaining. For the curtain raiser of ACT’s evening of Beckett, the characters in the 25 minute Play, are stuck in Ali Baba type urns with only their heads exposed.

Who are they and why are they in urns? The best my seatmate could suggest is that they were dead and the urns are cremation containers. Considering the Beckett’s works often are filled with existential absurdist angst, I could go along with her comment. There is a touch of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit with three characters giving each other a taste of Hell.

There is Husband (Anthony Fusco) in the middle urn flanked by Wife (Rene Augesen) and his Mistress (Annie Purcell). Husband could never choose between Wife and Mistress and there are snippets of clipped conversation (only occasionally speaking in full sentences) between them as they “re-live?” their past. There is a confusing use of lights and blackouts (Alexander V. Nichols) with a spotlight hitting each character as they speak. Just in case the audience might miss their story line, Beckett arranges to have them re-hash the story verbatim three times. When one of the few laughs is induced by the line, “I prefer Lipton tea”, any attempt at considering the play intellectual is futile.

There have been great expectations in the theatrical world for the past weeks in anticipation of Bill Irwin playing in Endgame that is considered one of Beckett’s masterpieces. Irwin is a master of mime and physical acting and this is a departure from his usual onstage personae. Although Endgame is considered as drama, it has more than a hint of Commedia dell'Arte. There is Hamm (Irwin) the master and Clov (Nick Gabriel) the servant and director Carey Perloff emphasizes (milks?) that relationship for laughs.

Clov is a partially crippled servant who has worked years for Hamm, a blind immobile master who sits in an armchair on casters. They are totally dependent on each other and each day is a repetition of every other day. Beckett is preparing them for death hence the title “Endgame.” Nick Gabriel as Clove has the right touch of shtick to keep the evening interesting. Irwin, is forced into a stationary role and must convey thought emotion and movement through, face and upper-body movement. Being the master of mime that he is, Irwin adroitly pulls this off and his lower-body never stirs.

Daniel Ostling’s prison like set is a marvel and the claustrophobia it imparts is palpable. Did I mention that there are two huge garbage cans (dust bins?) on down-stage right? In those bins are Nagg (Giles Havergal) and Nell (Charming Barbara Oliver) who pop up two or three times during the one hour and 30 minute play. Who are they? They are Hamm’s abused but loving parents.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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