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The American Repertory Theatre has had a long history with Samuel Beckett's 1957 play, "Endgame." The Irish writer was furious at the liberties the Cambridge theater took with its 1984 adaptation.
Now the ART is mounting a new production. Would Beckett be any happier? Meanwhile, there are echoes of Beckett in "Blackbird," a contemporary play by Scottish playwright David Harrower at the SpeakEasy Stage Company in Boston.
"Morning Edition" critic at large Ed Siegel reviews them both.
You know the quip about Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." "Nothing happens. Twice." The wait is in vain, in both acts.
Well, you might say of "Endgame," another Beckett classic, and "Blackbird," a 21st century play, "Something happened. Once."
In the case of "Endgame," it's something approximating the apocalypse. The four characters in the play might be the last on Earth. And what four characters. Clov is the attendant to Hamm, who sits paralyzed and blinded. His parents are in even worse shape: confined to ashcans.
Fun, right? Actually it is. In fact, one of the characters, Nell, says "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness." All good productions of Beckett show that — to some extent — and the current production at the American Repertory Theatre is definitely a good one. Here's Tom Thomas Derrah, as Clov, laughing at a seemingly serious story told by Will LeBow's Hamm:
(Clov bursts out laughing)
Hamm: What is there so funny about that?
Clov: A job as gardener!
Hamm: Is that what tickles you?
Clov: It must be that.
Hamm: It wouldn't be the bread?
Clov: Or the brat.
Hamm: The whole thing is comical, I grant you that. What abut having a good guffaw the two of us together?
Clov: After reflection, I couldn't guffaw again today.
The ART last staged "Endgame" 25 years ago, but moved the action, so to speak, from a bare room to a post-nuclear subway station and added music by Philip Glass. Beckett was "disgusted" by what he heard about the adaptation and suggested we should be, too.
The late playwright would be happier with this one. It features the four main members of the ART and a director, Marcus Stern, who follows all of Beckett's elaborate staging demands.
And I'm happier, if for no other reason than the acting is better, underlining the dread, as well as the humor, in "Endgame."
In "Blackbird," we don't find out about the dreadful event that binds Una and Ray until a third of the way through the taut 90-minute play. But we do know that it's 15 years later, and Una has decided to confront him about it, which is a personal apocalypse for her, if not for him.
The one room in which this play takes place is even more depressing than in "Endgame" — it's strewn with fast-food wrappers and cartons. And the language is almost as spare as Beckett's. The two actors, Marianna Bassham and Bates Wilder, are both terrific:
Una: You pushed me in here.
Ray: I didn't push
Una: Out of sight
Ray: I didn't push you. I brought you in here.
Una: They'll wonder who I am, will they?
Ray: They all saw you. So yes. I'm sure they will. They...
Una: Can I close the door?
Una: Can you close the door?
Ray: The door stays open.
Una: Why? I
Ray: I don't want it closed.
In the end, we're left with the sense that try as we might to civilize our instincts, the heart is untamable. "Blackbird" drives the point home, with a wallop.
This program aired on March 6, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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