The final stage of chess, the endgame, is a stage of the game in which few pieces are left on the board and pawns increase in significance. Endgames often center on trying to promote a pawn by moving it to the eighth rank. The king, typically sheltered from checkmate, changes into a strong piece that can be brought to the center of the board for attacks. In Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, four characters barely move in a box of a stage, rank is fluid, and no clear victory is assigned.
The Steppenwolf’s production of Beckett’s revered theatrical work is effective in its simplicity, with a set both barren and elegant, an accurate replication of the canonical script, and talented actors. More engaging than the previous staging of Endgame that I have seen—at a theater that shall remain unnamed, seeing that I fell asleep—this production benefits from strong performances, although on occasion these same performances might overshadow the deft minimalism of the text. Some of the lines, particularly early on, seem rushed, or perhaps I just require a more studied pace for thorough digestion.
The measured observations of the last half are a closer match to my understanding of Beckett. William Peterson’s Hamm is very active for a paraplegic: the audience is less likely to keep his imminent end in mind. He is regally seated on artfully makeshift throne, meticulously shifted to the center of the stage through his berating of his manservant, Clov. Hamm’s parents emerge from his and her trash cans to deliver nostalgic fugues. Particular kudos go to Martha Lavey for her poignant portrayal of Nell. Ian Barford plays Clov, and it is consistent with political readings of Beckett that a servant moves things forward. Clov’s moments of subversion contribute significantly to the work’s humor—light moments in a relentlessly bleak world. At one point Clov admonishes his master for having caused a woman to die of darkness. Endgame suggests the same end awaits us all.