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November 21, 2014

New UT production of classic Beckett drama is anything but trashy


Courtesy of University Theatre

This weekend University Theater will be putting on a Samuel Beckett classic featuring plenty of the expected absurdity but also an extra serving of humanity.  Beckett’s Endgame is a one-act play, but that’s quite a misnomer when you realize it runs for precisely one hour and 34 minutes.

“The show starts at 7:30, and the show ends at about 9:04.... Eric and David have gotten it down to an exact science,” Alex Hearn said with a laugh. Hearn, a second year, is playing Nag—the father figure of a strange, isolated family.

Beckett is also known for Waiting for Godot, which the Court Theatre will coincidentally be performing in January. Beckett is Irish, but he is known as a French novelist and playwright because he chose to write his work in French, then self-translated it into English. He claimed this helped him write as intentionally as possible. He emphasizes minimalism in both staging and language and includes consistently bizarre elements.

Endgame follows this style precisely. Hearn himself marveled at how the minimalist staging and small cast of four allows the play to be staged almost anywhere. However, in this staging of the play, the cast of characters, a small family on the verge of collapse, a into outright aggression re in their home during an unspoken apocalypse. The story that follows is loosely constructed and perhaps not the key to what makes the show tick. Instead, the show places weight on things typically taken for granted, forcing the audience to ask difficult questions about death, old age, and why people stay or leave.

The most important set pieces for the show are two garbage cans, the residence of the mother and father. Hearn and Eloise Hyman, who plays Hearn’s character’s wife Nel, spend an hour having aging makeup put on them, then the two climb into a garbage can 30 minutes before show time and sit in the dark for much of the lengthy show. It goes above and beyond commitment to character. Hearn says he keeps his phone with him for security, light, and a bit of stimulation, but one rehearsal his phone died.

“I was like, ‘Well, this is really getting into character. I’m really feeling it right now,’....Eloise and I sorta’ lucked out where they gave us like luxury-sized trash cans, but I can’t imagine like a standard sized trash can. It’s already sweltering as it is.”

The trash cans—as well as the rest of the absurdity (including a man who can only see the world through the help of his servant)—are not just on stage for the sake of strangeness. They play an important role in developing the show’s themes. Hearn asked, “How do we treat the elderly? How do we cordon them off… We treat them pretty poorly.”

If you know Endgame well, you’ll find a few differences in this telling. The space between Nel and Nag is purposely exaggerated to further stress their lack of agency as well as the distance between them.

“In the versions I’ve seen, the characters aren’t played with nearly as much tenderness [as in our version]…. It really highlights when they dip into cruel measures to keep each other there,” Hearn says.

Director Julia Santha pushed her actors to give the characters a real depth and humanity despite their foreignness. It serves to temper the absurdity with a whole new weight of its own.

November 21 at 7:30 p.m., November 22  at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Logan Center Theatre West, tickets $6 in advance or $8 at the door.

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