On the midway, in medias res

For the final production of its 50th anniversary year, Court Theatre chose a play that’s approaching its own half-century mark: Samuel Beckett’s Endgame premiered in 1957 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, performed in French as Fin de partie.

Set in a drab, half-underground room that shelters four characters—blind, wheelchair-bound Hamm; his servant Clove; and Hamm’s ancient father and mother, Nagg and Nell, who live, per Beckett’s directions, in garbage cans—Endgame has become synonymous with existential, Cold War despair. The current production, directed by Christopher Bayes, captures the disillusion while living up to its Court billing as “A Carnival of Laughter and Despair.”

Videotaped roller-coasters, a Ferris wheel’s circling lights, and tent-like canvas hangings set the midway mood. And, as Bayes plays up Beckett’s music-hall influences, Hamm (Allen Gilmore) performs as a vaudeville ham, Clove (Joe Faust) is his slapstick sidekick, and Nagg (Maury Cooper) and Nell (Roslyn Alexander) do burlesque bits.

After all, as Nell tells Nag, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” But Nell’s next line rings even truer as the play moves toward its certain, uncertain conclusion: “Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more.”

At the end of Court’s Endgame, which runs through June 26, neither is the audience laughing any more.


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Photos (from left to right): Joe Foust as Clov and Allen Gilmore as Hamm; Roslyn Alexander as Nell and Joe Foust as Clov; Maury Cooper as Nagg and Roslyn Alexander as Nell.

Photos by Michael Brosilow

June 15, 2005