Acting in Beckett is inevitably more physical than metaphysical. Famously dictatorial about the way his plays were staged, he cared little for the high-minded rigmarole of critics. “My work is a matter of fundamental sounds (no joke intended), made as fully as possible, and I accept responsibility for nothing else,” he wrote to his American director Alan Schneider. “If people want to have their headaches among the overtones, let them. And provide their aspirin.” For Beckett, Endgame boiled down to characters and location: “Hamm as stated, and Clov as stated, together as stated . . . in such a place, and in such a world, that’s all I can imagine, more than I could.”
The Irish Rep’s revival of Endgame, directed by Charlotte Moore, features one performance that might have satisfied the exacting playwright. With complete submission to his role’s unusual constraints, Alvin Epstein offers a luminously hobbled Nagg, the old man in the sand-filled bin, who spends his day crying for biscuits from his son, Hamm (Tony Roberts), and pleading with his similarly potted wife, Nell (Kathryn Grody), to scratch him in his “hollow.” Aware that he’s playing an elderly cripple and not a Beckettian abstraction, Epstein injects a nursing-home reality of pouts, drools, and childish outbursts —in short, everything that’s needed to ground the savage high jinks in convincing human detail.
Endgame amounts to a ritual of abandonment between master and servant, parent and child—an enactment of the harrowing losses suffered and inflicted in the ever shifting power game known as life. Though resonant as an existential stage poem, the play sinks when treated as a metaphor. As Clov, Hamm’s bitterly reluctant flunky, Adam Heller has the unfortunate tendency to italicize his character’s mordantly witty lines, underscoring grave themes in the subtle matter of Cliff’s Notes. Roberts slightly overplays Hamm’s hamminess, though he manages just the right decrepit regality.
If only the production offered a glimmer of the long excruciating dependency that marks these two castoffs.