Starring Joseph Ziegler, Diego Matamoros. Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Daniel Brooks. Young Centre for the Performing Arts, to Nov. 17.
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame isn’t a play—it’s an endurance test. Beckett himself admitted that this 1957 absurdist classic, which is even more of an exercise in minimalism than his earlier Waiting for Godot, has “no drama whatsoever.” Still, Soulpepper’s revival succeeds in making his stark vision of the end of life/the world bleakly entertaining.
As the title suggests, the great Irish writer was inspired by the final phase of a chess game. The central character, blind, wheelchair-bound Hamm (Joseph Ziegler), sits immobile like an impotent king, telling tales and waiting for checkmate/death. His servant, Clov (Diego Matamoros), is an overworked pawn, reluctantly scurrying about to fulfill his master’s constant whims. Hamm’s decrepit parents, Nagg (Eric Peterson) and Nell (Maria Vacratsis), sit on the sidelines, confined to a pair of garbage cans, from which they occasionally emerge to cry out for food. It’s a dark, hopeless scenario and yet Beckett seems to relish it—as do director Daniel Brooks and his terrific cast.
Ziegler’s Hamm, looking like Beckett’s mentor James Joyce, adopts a tone of bitter amusement when not barking orders. Matamoros’ limping Clov resembles a broken old clown, whose exasperation with Hamm has hardened into comic shtick. Peterson and Vacratsis make the most of their cameos as the shunted-off elders. Peterson’s dishevelled, demented Nagg, in particular, is at once funny and horrifying. The inspired design is a dusty, cement-coloured nightmare, with Kevin Lamotte’s lighting casting large, crooked shadows on Julie Fox’s set—a nod to the play’s intimations of apocalypse. This is one Endgame well worth enduring.