If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Beckett’s “Endgame” with Dennehy at Long Wharf
Let the head-scratching begin. Avant-garde Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and his classic tragic/comedy “Endgame” is currently on the menu at the Long Wharf Theatre. Anchored by Connecticut actor Brian Dennehy in the central role, the play is certain to be a financial hit for the New Haven theatre even as it simultaneously baffles, frustrates and enthralls viewers.
Translated from the French by the playwright in 1957, the title of “Endgame” refers to the final moves in chess when only a few pieces remain. It is an apt metaphor for Beckett’s strange, often infuriating, sometimes tedious and, yes, very important theatre milestone. At Long Wharf, the setting (by ace designer Eugene Lee) is framed by towers of wood chairs stacked upon each other (it’s a shame that this arresting visual is really not visible during the play). The main playing area resembles a basement dwelling with debris strewn in the corners and two small windows resembling eyes out to the unseen world. It is here that Hamm (Dennehy) holds court with his manservant Clov (Reg E. Cathey, terrific) and his legless parents (Joe Grifasi and Lynn Cohen) confined to laundry baskets (director Gordon Edelstein has, for some reason, eschewed the usual device of using trash cans here.)
As is the case with most of Beckett, interpretation about the grim situation depicted in “Endgame” and the largely non-sequitur dialogue that follows is all up for grabs. And despite the gallows humor throughout, the play is about the end as Hamm awaits a death that he may or may not be ready to embrace. Dennehy’s bluster and command of the stage is in evidence here and he is strongly supported by Cathey, perhaps best known as President Kevin Spacey’s chef friend on the Netflix series, “House of Cards”. Old pros Grifasi and Cohen are quite touching as the aging parents, no more so than when they attempt a kiss that proves futile.
I respect the plays of Beckett but I can’t always say I’ve appreciated them to their fullest. And in this rendering, Edelstein has seemed to emphasize the humor over the pathos which may be a more popular choice but resulted in a less moving production for me. My most recent Becket experience was at the Yale Repertory Theatre last season with the luminous Dianne Wiest on display in “Happy Days”. “Endgame” is not as easy a play to love and I confess to squirming throughout much of the otherwise well-paced 90 minutes of drama at Long Wharf. By curtain I still questioned whether, were it not for the fine quartet of actors assembled, the play would have worked for me at all.
“Endgame” continues at Long Wharf’s intimate Stage II in New Haven through February 5 and seating is limited. For further information call the theatre box office at: 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.