Palindrome Theatre's debut squeezes all the meaning it can from Beckett's bleakness
Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., Jan. 29, 2010
Larry L. King Theatre at Austin Playhouse,
3601 S. Congress, 786-1939
Through Jan. 31
Running time: 1 hr, 30 min
What waits for us at the end of the world? A gutted-out warehouse where anything useful has long since been stripped away. A blind tyrant who cannot stand and his vexed servant
who cannot sit. The tyrant's parents, living in trash cans, legless and begging for scraps. A life stripped of possibility. And here, near Endgame, one of the strugglers proclaims, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that."
Ahh, Beckett! No one pisses more freely on the futility of existence than the famous Irish playwright, embracing and mocking the confines of reality. The characters particularly of Endgame and Waiting for Godot are defined by their bleak worldviews and confined environments and yet can forget their plights instantaneously.
Palindrome Theatre's inaugural production presents Hamm and Clov, Nell and Nagg, as they wind down into oblivion. The home they've created is squalid, and the world out their window is just as bleak and even more lifeless; they have no idea if the rest of the world beyond their view has similarly disintegrated, nor do they care.
And while other modern post-apocalyptic tales imbue these heroes-on-the-brink with significance and meaning, Endgame shrinks away from such import. "Clov, we're not starting to mean something, are we?" asks Hamm angrily. Again, Hamm: "We do what we can." Clov, in response: "We shouldn't."
Hamm and Clov have no interest in saving humanity or anything else, and in director Kate Eminger's production, they seem pissed, stressed, frustrated, and sad that they are the last souls burdened with existence. Jarrett King's Hamm, the blinded tyrant of squalor, reflects on their situation with a near-total bitterness. Gabriel Luna's Clov is beleaguered, world-weary, cynical. In Palindrome's production, the two characters seem to need each other so much because they know only pain. They garner no pleasure from each other but cannot get away either. Time and again when Hamm asks Clov, "Where are you?" it is a shout of anger, not a plea for help.
It is this plight that Palindrome pushes in its production, too. The creative choices tend toward the existential, with director Eminger seeming to want to squeeze all the meaning possible out of the play. Subsequently, Palindrome's Endgame is very light on humor. Beckett's plays are full of homages to the clowning of Buster Keaton and Chaplin, and Endgame is no different. This near-slapstick humor is usually the fascinating and engrossing contrast to the existential angst of his worlds and, indeed, where change is found, but Eminger has chosen to really dig into its contemplation of oblivion.
Luna continues his fine run of performances – Ophelia, Black Snow, Orestes – with Clov, committing strongly to the character's ramshackle physicality. And though he starts off slowly, King really grows into the wry, embittered power of Hamm. Palindrome may have been founded by recent St. Edward's University graduates, but the quality of their designs and performances suggests a professionalism well beyond a first production.