I recently saw the American Repertory Theatre’s production of Endgame. Endgame is an one-act four-character play. The characters are Hamm (wheel chair-bound and blind), his servant Clov, Nagg and Nell (Hamm’s parents)
Endgame is a chess term and it refers to the final moves of the game, when there are few pieces left on the board. In this play Beckett writes about the Endgame of the characters’ lives. We’re all heading to the end, and what is it that we seek in the last moments? Closure? Laughter? Beckett provides us with some good laughs. Hamm is the master and sounds like he’s been giving his servant Clov hell for a long time, but Clov is still by his side sustaining one blow after the other. Hamm’s parents live in the ground and at the beginning we see two trash lids on the stage and when Clov opens them we only get to see Nagg’s and Nell’s heads. As Alan Astro writes in Understanding Samuel Beckett
Hamm would be the hammer, merciless against all humanity, who bears down on several nails: his servant Clov (clou in French means nail), his father Nagg (Nagel is German for nail), and his mother Nell (whose name sounds like nail)
The production was minimalistic, the setting grim, sad, deteriorated . We see boarded up windows, exposed rusting pipes. I found that Markus Stern’s direction conveyed the feeling of the short trip toward the end. And you know it will end, but still there is a stretch to run. The actors, especially Will LeBow as Hamm and Thomas Derrah as Clov did a very good job. I could understand the characters, read their misery, their anger, their frustrations. Karen MacDonald played the part of Nell, and Remo Airaldi the part of Nagg. I liked it.
Hamm: Why don’t you kill me?
Clov: I don’t know the combination of the cupboard.
Clov: When there were still bicycles I wept to have one. I crawled at your feet. You told me to go to hell. Now there are none.
Hamm: Did you ever have an instant of happiness?
Clov: Not to my knowledge.
Hamm: Use your head, can’t you, use your head. You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that!
Clov: I say to myself— sometimes, Clov, you must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you— one day. I say to myself—sometimes, Clov, you must be better than that if you want them to let you go—one day. But I feel too old, and too far, to form new habits. Good, it’ll never end, I’ll never go. Then one day, suddenly, it ends, it changes, I don’t understand, it dies, or it’s me, I don’t understand that either. I ask the words that remain— sleeping, waking, morning, evening. They have nothing to say. I open the door of the cell and go. I am so bowed I only see my feet, if I open my eyes, and between my legs a little trail of black dust. I say to myself that the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit. It’s easy going. When I fall I’ll weep for happiness.