A polite ‘Endgame’

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Sometimes it’s all there and yet. . . there’s something missing.

That’s how I felt leaving the Kirk Douglas Theater after seeing Alan Mandell’s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame.”

[A caveat: if you went to see the Taper’s production of “Waiting For Godot” several years ago and loved it – skip this review, buy a ticket to “Endgame,” you’ll probably feel the same way about this production.]

Everything you would expect in “Endgame” is there: the dark glasses, the blood stained handkerchief, the chair, the bins, the biscuit. It’s one of those plays whose iconography is so strong, it’s unmistakable. All of this is lovingly, almost politely, recreated.

That might be part of the problem. There is to the production an odd sense of deference and a strange lack of place.

John Iacovelli’s set has us in what one might imagine is a forgotten 17th century turret somewhere. It’s a curved, stone block room raised to stage height. The murky windows are suitably out of reach, requiring “the steps” to peer out of them. It’s impressive. It feels old. The two cans that house Nagg and Nell are tucked next to each other downstage right. They feel like somewhat spiffy oil barrels. In one sense, it’s a completely believable set for “Endgame.” Almost academic. The trouble is it doesn’t feel like a complete place. You get a sense of where it is in the same way you understand the African Sahara from a diorama at a natural history museum. I want to say there is nothing personal about it, nothing specific but that’s not accurate.  It doesn’t feel lived in. It doesn’t feel threatening. It doesn’t feel isolated. Maybe it’s the curved embrace of the walls? Maybe it’s their seeming solidity? It feels more like a fortress than a prison. It feels safe.

“Endgame” shouldn’t feel safe.

If you listen to Barry McGovern’s voice (who plays Clov) you’ll hear that.His performance has an edge, a sense of menace.  His words cut through the space leaving an impression. Unfortunately, that threat doesn’t extend to the rest of the production.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fiercely competent production (every beat happens, every line clear) but somehow it doesn’t reach out and grab you. The terrible co-dependent threat of these two characters facing the end feels a little too rote.

To devotees this is, of course, sacrilege. After all, Mr. Mandell (who plays Hamm and directed this production) was directed by Mr. Beckett himself and based this production on notes from that production.

For this heretic, I left wanting more.