Beckett for a new century

Beckett's "Endgame' at the Arden (3rd review)

3 minute read
Ijames (left), Greer: Like a blind man at the end of the world.
Ijames (left), Greer: Like a blind man at the end of the world.
As I exited the theater after the Arden's production of Samuel Beckett's 1957 work, Endgame, an older man griped to me about audience members who had clomped around in and out of the theater during the show. He was shocked that discomfited audience members were in fact older and of the generation to whom Endgame would have been most popular and most relevant.

It made me— a recent college graduate, now running a student theater company— curious: How does theater age with time? Does an experimental play like Endgame— which is decidedly more intellectually based than emotional or plot-driven— lose its relevance as time passes, both for those who had seen it in its prime and new theatergoers such as myself?

The Arden's updated production helped demonstrate— to me, at least— that the avant-garde of an earlier generation can be rendered relevant, if the production brings you into the world that the play created, rather than try to force the play into the world we are in.

Filth and smog

Endgame essentially concerns two men: Clov, who can't sit down, and Hamm, a blind man unable to stand up. Hamm's parents sit, legless, in two trashcans on the side. Whatever their physical shortcomings, all four characters are endowed with Beckett's crafted words and sculpted phrases. Yet what most resonated with me from the Arden's production were the mesmerizing technical aspects.

The concrete floor was cracked and chipped; the air was filled with smog; the whole set conveyed a real sense of filth and abandonment. A hole at the back of the set seemed to create an endless abyss; you felt both trapped in the space and confronted by never-ending nothingness. Clov's and Hamm's voices bounced around the cold concrete walls, echoing and amplifying their words

The real stroke of genius was the decision to create a total absence of light in the initial blackout, leaving the audience with the closest possible thing to a feeling of sensory deprivation. It created an air of discomfort and uncertainty, as a blind man might feel at the end of the world.

Anger to childishness

Whatever the virtue of its script and intellect, Endgame is a dense work that's hard to be swept up in on an emotional level. That task was accomplished not only by the set but also by a remarkable cast under Edward Sobel.

Scott Greer masterfully expresses the range of emotions of the selfish and tyrannical Hamm. His vocal diversity as he jumps from anger to childishness to sarcasm brings life into what could otherwise be a very cold character. Desperation and need powerfully shine through in the moments that Hamm fears most: that he will be left alone.

James Ijames as Clov trips over the emotions, bouncing around as an explorative child one moment before snapping to serious and gritted anger in the next.

Beckett's otherwise baffling use of repetition— his cycling of words and phrases— draws the audience into the cyclical, never-ending but also never-changing world of Clov and Hamm. The Arden production had me intellectually, if not emotionally, engaged for the full 90 minutes. ♦

To read another review by Steve Cohen, click here.
To read another review by Robert Zaller, click here.

What, When, Where

Endgame. By Samuel Beckett; Edward Sobel directed. Through March 10, 2013 at the Arden Theatre’s Arcadia Stage, 40 N. Second St. (215) 922-1122 or

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