directed by ANDREW J. ROBINSON
Allan Arbus and
Mitchell Ryan as "Nagg"
Robin Gammell and Charles Hallahan as "Hamm"
Gregory Itzin and Cotter Smith as "Clov"
Audra Lindley and Claudette Sutherland as "Nell"
- WINNER, 1995 L.A. Drama
Critics Circle Award:
Direction (Andrew J. Robinson)
Lead Performance (Charles Hallahan)
Variety, Thursday, June 15, 1995
by Christopher Meeks
The plays of Samuel Beckett are often thought of as
literary castor oil -- they're good for you, even if they're difficult to
get down. The Matrix Theatre Company's production of "Endgame," however,
reveals Beckett's greatness. The extraordinarily acted and well-directed
production brings out the lyrical language, imagery and surprising humor
behind Beckett's profound sense of futility.
"Endgame" has a sense of plotlessness that's similar to
his "Waiting for Godot," a sense of being lost in time and place and
The play revolves around a blind and paralyzed Hamm
(Charles Hallahan), whose mind constantly questions his existence.
Hamm is tirelessly attended to by Clov (Gregory Itzin), whose legs cannot
bend. A few arm-lengths away, Hamm's legless parents, Nagg (Mitchell Ryan)
and Nell (Audra Lindley), live in a dumpster.
Hamm does the same things every day: converse, have
Clov wheel him around the room, and have Clov relate what's out the
windows. Repetition is existence. This day, however, is different
because something has happened. "Something is taking its course." They are
living out their last days. One can, in fact, infer that these
people may be the remnants of a post-nuclear disaster.
The cast has an impeccable sense of timing, often of
the comic variety, which makes the work accessible to an audience. For
instance, when Hamm asks if a three-legged stuffed dog is gazing at him —
as if that matters — Clov moves the dog's head to make it so. Perfect.
As Hamm, Hallahan rules the roost in a gray beard and
disintegrating red silk robe. His need to be in the exact center is
hilarious — and ironic considering how the characters' lives have no
Itzin's Clov makes a good foil. His sense of
aggressiveness gives one a vague hope of deliverance — that not all is
decay, but that nature, somehow, will triumph.
Ryan and Lindley show the parents as accepting of their
condition - and perhaps closer to its inevitability than Hamm. "Nothing is
funnier than unhappiness," Nell says.
Director Andrew Robinson triumphs as he sticks close to
Beckett's extensive stage directions and in the end gives meaning to the
definition of "absurd": the quality or condition of living in a
meaningless and irrational world.
As with previous Matrix shows, the play has been double
cast. Robin Gammell (Hamm), Cotter Smith (Clov), Allan Arbus (Nagg) and
Claudette Sutherland (Nell) also play the roles. Different combinations
will make for different casts.
Also top-notch is Mathew C. Jacobs' set design, whose
cinder blocks and mottled beige coloring look as if they're stolen from an
alley. The lighting by Doc Ballard and the costume and makeup design by
Cara Varnell appropriately reinforce the grimness.
L.A. Times, Thursday, June 15, 1995
by Laurie Winer
• Theater review: Samuel Beckett's meditation on the end
of the metaphoric day resonates with meaningful meaninglessness.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell, and I count myself a
king of infinite I space—were it not that I have bad dreams," said Hamlet.
Hamm, the tattered protagonist of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" is the king
of that nutshell. He reigns in a concrete basement, in a filthy robe that
was once royal red. He is attended by his vexed servant Clov and annoyed
by two ancient, dusty parents, Nagg and Nell. They pop up occasionally
from the trash bin in which they live, sucking on dog biscuits.
How is it that Beckett can be so bleak and so funny at
the same time? This is one of the great mysteries of modern drama, and it
is available for contemplation at the Matrix Theatre, where "Endgame," in
all of its weirdly funny glory, runs until July 2.
As usual, the Matrix double-casts the play, reshuffling
actors from night to night. If you see the cast I saw, you won't want it
to. Charles Hallahan plays Hamm, whose pompous stateliness is reminiscent
of Jackie Gleason, if he were blind, grimy, chair-bound and capable of
taking joy from cruelty. With insouciance, he folds a bloody head rag into
a hankie, which he pops into his robe pocket. Nothing is flair but
thinking makes it so—as Hamlet might have said.
Hallahan's Hamm is a big, bossy, mean baby of a man,
but human, very human. He asks the air, with self-pitying nobility, "Can
there be misery loftier than mine?" His rhetorical question gives him
But the contemplation of his own mortality bores him.
He yawns extravagantly. "And yet," he says, "I hesitate to end."
Alan Schneider, the original director of many of
Beckett's plays, wrote that "Waiting for Godot" is about an expected
arrival that never comes and "Endgame" about a departure that remains only
anticipated. For Hamm and the other characters, "Endgame" is the stretch
of time, near the end of the metaphoric day, when we wait for death but go
on doing our meaningless chores. Yet every tight sentence in the play
resonates with meaning. Meaningful "meaninglessness: Beckett is the master
of this fundamental semiotic paradox.
Schneider called Clov an automaton, but that is not how
Gregory Itzin plays him. Lean and . expressive, he is Laurel to Hallahan's
Hardy, straining to be patient with his capricious master. His face
changes from exasperation to outrage to sudden kindness. Because he can
see but can't be seen by his blind master, his expressions are pure,
unadulterated by the expectation of someone else's perception.
Itzin shows us that Clov's predicament is actually
richer than Hamm's. He has more to do and more information to process. His
load is heavier. Itzin's rubber face resembles several other great clowns.
In the final scene, in his hat and traveling bag, he looks like Ray
Bolger. His hesitations have the pregnancy of Buster Keaton's. There is a
classic quality about him.
Director Andrew Robinson also gets a fine, lamenting
Nell from Audra Lindley. And Mitchell Ryan is very funny as the crusty old
dad Nagg, demanding one minute, cringing and servile the next, coated in
dust. The alternate cast features Robin Gammell as Hamm, Allan Arbus as
Nagg, Claudette Sutherland as Nell and Cotter Smith as Clov. (A review of
this cast will run next week.)
I'm at a loss to describe why Hamm, the blind, mean,
fat guy, is so touching. He sits on his decrepit little throne, with a
pathetic stuffed dog made out of rags and socks collapsed at his feet,
grandly holding a staff, a bloody rag peeking from his pocket. He smells,
as Lear said, of mortality. "You're on Earth, there is no cure for that!"
Hamm notes, with perfect accuracy, and with a certain inexplicable
satisfaction. It's true, there is no cure for that. But at least there is
Follow-up review - Thursday, June 22, 1995
The Matrix Theatre has a policy of mixing and matching
its casts, as it does in its smart new production of Samuel Beckett's
In a performance seen Friday night, Robin Gammell
played the lord of the manor, Hamm, as a chatty wisecracker. He's
less grandiose than the other Hamm - Charles Hallahan - who fills the
stage with puffed-up nobility.
Consequently, the play's focus shifted a bit,
particularly to Allan Arbus' Nagg, Hamm's crotchety, much abused dad. Hamm
promises Nagg a sugarplum if he will listen to an interminable story.
Arbus was very funny as he pretended to listen, poised halfway between
impatience and despair, fighting the tedious certainty that the sugarplum
would never materialize. This is a playlet in itself.
Under Andrew Robinson's direction, Cotter Smith's Clov
has the same physical tics as when Gregory Itzin plays him, but Smith's
Clov is a bit more of a lost soul. As the old mother who longs for
yesterday, Claudette Sutherland's Nell is unsentimentally sad.
The cast is reshuffled nightly, but this is a deck with
a lot of strong cards. It's hard to imagine a bad hand.
L.A. Weekly - Theater Pick of the Week
by Lovell Estell III
Samuel Beckett's comi-tragedies invite and challenge
interpretation. In spite of their singularly despairing vision, there are
rich veins of poetry, symbolism and metaphor always at work, as well as a
sense of humor that's almost lethal in its cynicism. Endgame is a
brilliant piece of writing about four wretched characters who share a
purposeless existence in a world on its last gasp. Two of these figures,
Nagg and Nell (Mitchell Ryan and Audra Lindley) live in trash cans. Their
son, Hamm (the masterful Charles Hallahan), is the bloodied, moribund king
of this realm who sits on a beastly parody of a throne. As he is unable to
move, his capricious needs are slavishly served by Clov (Gregory Itzin),
in a humorous ritual of servitude. In Beckett's Waiting for Godot,
a significant arrival is anticipated. But here, the characters await their
thoroughly insignificant departure. This static play, if not staged with
imagination and care, can easily implode into tedium. But director Andrew
Robinson has avoided that pitfall with the help of a stellar cast and a
disciplined, artful mining of the play's comic dimensions. Mathew Jacobs'
industrial-back-alley set design, complete with a full-size dumpster,
subtly evokes the barren, apocalyptic milieu in which the play's squalid,
eerie characters find themselves so hopelessly trapped. Like other
productions by this company, a rotating cast offers a different ensemble
each night. But it's hard to imagine how the combination of performers on
the night I attended could be more nuanced or affecting.