Friday, May 07, 2010

Beckett's Endgame Baffles from the Beginning

Theater Review

a play by Samuel Beckett
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Thru June 6, 2010

I realize that some of the most ultimately enriching works of art can initially be among the most challenging and confusing.

Artistry at its most innovative and imaginative often requires an eschewal of linearity or normality that can be more than a trifle off-putting to a newcomer.

As such, in seeing Samuel Beckett's absurdist one-act Endgame for the first time last night at Steppenwolf, I can't say that I "got" or particularly liked it. But especially with the help of a good post-show discussion, I can appreciate that there might be much worth re-exploring and quality that exceeded my firsthand enjoyment.

I imagine devout Beckettophiles should love it, as there is undeniable talent involved with this production.

William Petersen, who has returned to Chicago stage acting after getting rich and more famous on TV's CSI, stars as Hamm, a blind, unable to stand man (king? tyrant? definitely a son, perhaps a father) coming to terms, obtusely, with his own mortality.

Now a Steppenwolf ensemble member, Petersen is joined onstage by three other Steppenwolf stalwarts and directed by a fourth. Ian Barford plays Clov, Hamm's servant, Martha Lavey and Francis Guinan play Hamm's dead, dying and/or otherwise decaying parents, who are relegated to living in ashcans, and Frank Galati helms the mainstage production. 

The performances alone probably made the 75-minute show worth seeing, even if I never do warm up to what was really going on or why I should care, but I would strongly suggest availing yourself of Steppenwolf's ticket discounts, which enable you to buy day-of-show seats for $20 over-the-phone at 11am (this is what I did) or at half-price in person within an hour of showtime. Based on last night's considerably less-than-full house--I guess the novelty of Petersen back on the local boards has worn off--cheap seats should be commonly available.

Endgame was just my second foray into Beckett, but recently seeing Krapp's Last Tape at Goodman was an even more befuddling and displeasing experience. Perhaps I'm not smart enough--or even in the moment alert enough--to appreciate the consequence of his absurdity, no matter how artful. I probably should look deeper and revisit Endgame at some point, but perhaps for now it's best if I keep Waiting for Godot.

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