LIVE: “Endgame” @ Berkshire Theatre Festival, 7/10/10

David Chandler and Mark Corkins in Berkshire Theatre Festival's production of Endgame directed by Eric Hill
David Chandler and Mark Corkins in Berkshire Theatre Festival's production of Endgame

As you would expect from the King of Bleak, Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” is anything but light, frothy summer fare. It’s a dark, despairing, particularly knotty mobius-strip of a play that examines the dynamics of dependency, the rituals of routine and the no-win situation that we call the human experience.

Hamm is the master of a gray, empty room in which even the picture hanging on the wall faces the wall. He is blind, hard of hearing and abusive. And he can’t stand.

Clov is his cantankerous man-servant, reluctant but unable to leave. And he can’t sit.

This subtly shifting master-servant exercise in futility is expertly examined in director Eric Hill’s powerhouse production at the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Unicorn Theatre.

Consider this pointed, yet poetic exchange:

CLOV: Why this farce, day after day?
HAMM: Routine. One never knows. (Pause) Last night I saw inside my breast. There was a big sore.
CLOV: Pah! You saw your heart.
HAMM: No, it was living. (Pause) Clov!
CLOV: Yes.
HAMM: What’s happening?
CLOV: Something is taking its course. (Pause)
HAMM: Clov!
CLOV: What is it?
HAMM: We’re not beginning to… to… mean something?
CLOV: Mean something! You and I, mean something! (Laugh) Ah that’s a good one!

Adding to the “festivities” are Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell, who spend the play in garbage cans. Only their heads and hands are visible, and then only when Beckett gives them something to say, like this:

NELL : Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. But—
NELL: Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it’s always the same thing. Yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh any more. (Pause) Have you anything else to say to me?

While not as overtly comical as Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” masterwork, “Endgame” is laced with biting, black comedy, which is brought to the fore by actors David Chandler as the embittered Clov and Mark Corkins as the bellowing but insecure Hamm. Like Pinter, Beckett says as much with his silences as he does with his words, and both Chandler and Corkins deftly handle their lines with the impeccable timing of world-class stand-up comedians.

As Nell and Nagg, actors Tanya Dougherty and Randy Harrison are given less to work with, but they make the most of their brief time onstage, managing to draw out moments of compassion (or at least vestiges of compassion) from their endless hopelessness.

Nothing really happens in a Beckett play, and “Endgame” is no exception. In fact, that’s pretty much the whole point of the play.

But apparently, some folks in attendance on opening night didn’t get the message. The first couple walked out of the theater just 20 minutes into the play, and eventually they were followed by nearly two dozen more folks.

Obviously, Samuel Beckett is not for everyone, but if you want to spend a thoughtful evening watching some serious theater, BTF’s uncompromising production is one of the summer’s prime candidates. “Endgame” may have you scratching your head afterward, but it’s likely to stay with you for days.

HAMM: What’s happening, what’s happening?
CLOV: Something is taking its course. (Pause)

“Endgame” continues its run at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Great Barrington through Saturday, July 24.

Michael Eck’s review in The Times Union
Larry Murray’s review at
Peter Bergman’s review at

  1. Janine says

    I saw the play on opening night. it was one of the hardest plays I have seen. I have been subscribing to BTF for 5 years. I had to “sleep on it” before even attempting to see somehting there. The acting was superb and Eric Hill always comes through. I will be seeing it again next week and hopefully I will have more insights. It is certainly a dark play and there really is no end except the end. I love BTF because I can always count on having new experiences and my life has been enriched by the people I have met and by the plays. I rather think I will be talking about this play for a long time.

  2. Stuart says

    Best wishes.
    The Endgame will be performed in Cape Town South Africa almost simultaniously by the Mechanicals Theatre Company at The Little Theatre.
    Come and join us.

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