Long Wharf Theatre
Things are pretty bleak onstage at Long Wharf Theatre where Samuel Beckett’s classic play, “Endgame,” is being presented in a well-meaning, if ultimately confusing production. Though the cast, led by an unrecognizable Brian Dennehy, do their best, a general air of bewilderment hangs in the air throughout the show. Beckett’s play is the epitome of existentialism, much like his “Waiting for Godot,” but it really needs a stronger directorial hand then the one Gordon Edelstein provides. It can be stated that the production, with an interesting and expansive set designed by Eugene Lee, is intriguing to look at and there are scattered flashes of meaning throughout. But, in the end, “Endgame” at Long Wharf Theatre is just too strange and mystifying an experience to be easily enjoyed.
Still, whatever the flaws are about this production, the actors are good and do what they can to enliven the show. Sporting a full beard, Brian Dennehy certainly makes an unusual entrance. At the very start of the show, he is wheeled onstage sitting in a chair, with a dirty white blanket draped completely over him. It is only when another character, Clov (the excellent Reg E. Cathey), pulls the blanket off of him does the audience realize that Dennehy is indeed onstage. Playing the central role of Hamm, who is blind, Dennehy commandingly delivers long speeches during “Endgame” and, as always, he is a fascinating actor to watch, but even his talents cannot turn this show into anything truly interesting.
In the role of Clov, Reg E. Cathey, does better overall in creating his character. It is stated in the program that this character can move around but is unable to sit down. So, through much of “Endgame” this actor is constantly walking off stage and then back onstage, especially when Hamm blows his whistle (which, to put it bluntly, is overly shrill and ear-piercing). Clov is something of a faithful servant, in a way, to Hamm, and Cathey is able to get laughs just from carrying a ladder from one window to the other, when he is instructed. Though it is often difficult to understand what is going on onstage, Reg E. Cathey is very good and he may be the biggest asset in the production.
Not to be left out, there are two other actors who make appearances during the show. There is the pixyish Nell (the warm-faced Lynn Cohen) who literally pops up out of a box for one brief scene. Playing her husband, Nagg, Joe Grifasi has a more substantial role and he, at least, provides a different character to focus on, to provide some variety from watching the Hamm-Clov relationship. Like Nell, Joe Grifasi’s character also seems to live in a box and there are various moments where he can be seen eating what looks like a large dog biscuit or crying out for a piece of candy. Lynn Cohen and Joe Grifasi are certainly pros at what they do, but neither can really provide much meaning to why these characters are in the play.
But perhaps the blame for this confusion falls more on director Gordon Edelstein, whose work I have admired in the past. In “Endgame,” Edelstein does what he can with the pacing of the show, but he gives little insight to why one should truly care about what is happening onstage. Or maybe Beckett’s “Endgame” is simply just too existential a play to really make sense of. My only previous exposure to one of Beckett’s plays is “Waiting for Godot,” which I saw in a stupendous and haunting production Off-Broadway, back in the 1990s. To be fair, I read “Waiting for Godot” before seeing the play onstage. (I did not read “Endgame” before seeing the Long Wharf production). If you are a Beckett fan, I suppose Long Wharf’s “Endgame” might be more your cup of tea. For me, despite the best efforts of the talented cast, I often sat in a state of extreme perplexity.
“Endgame” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through February 5, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.
Photo: (L-R): Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey
Photo by T. Charles Erickson