Review: Endgame (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper’s Endgame is a testament to Toronto’s theatre community “where being excellent is simply the norm”

The ending is in the beginning.” Or so the character of Hamm so famously said in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Endgame is the second to last show of Soulpepper’s 15th anniversary season and speaking the words of Hamm is Joseph Ziegler. The last time this show was staged it won the Dora Award for best show, way back in 1999.

This version is more of a revision than a remount by its original director Daniel Brooks, and it is rounded out by Eric Peterson as Nag, Maria Vacratsis as Nell, and Diego Matamoros as Clov – the lone survivor from the original cast.

This is one of the great works of the modernist cannon, writing an essay on this show is pretty much a rite of passage for any theatre student. I am pretty sure I wrote an essay on the roles of “Nag” and “Nell” in my second year and I found myself longing for all of my old essays that I hammered out on a word processor. I think I “got” the show more back then or at least I was better at pretending I did.

Theatre school long, long behind me, I came to this show with the brain more of a regular patron and I was struck by its inaccessibility. The program is filled with quotations from Beckett, pretty much underlining its pure absurdity for anyone looking to impose meaning into it. “Don’t try” seems to be the message.

Endgame is about the final play at life, the final dance before we die…I think. That’s about as much meaning as I think anyone can get. This is absurdist theatre in its purest, most distilled form and it is worth attending for that alone. It is akin to watching a fragmented poem or expressionist painting.

Why is it important? Because it launched a style and sense of theatre that breaks down linear meaning and those repercussions are still evident on our stages today. Why go see it? Simply put, there will be no other company in this city that would put more time, attention and funding into Beckett’s masterpiece. Will you like it? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure you are really supposed to. This might be why it played to a less than full house the day I was able to attend.

So if I strip the sixty years of significance from the piece, what did I enjoy? Well the performances are a study in timing, both comedic and absurdist. Joseph Ziegler is flawless as is Matamoros. Eric Peterson and Maria Vacratsis are super playful, engaging, and hilarious.

I was absolutely in love with Julie Fox’s set design, as was my date. It was the perfect dystopian wasteland – but it was more – the double curtain was a thing of theatrical beauty to behold. Kevin Lamotte’s lighting was subtle but fantastic. There is a cue that must be a five-minute fade; incredible. It is as though someone is turning off the lights at the pace of a snail. I thought this was a perfect complement to the overall theme of futility.

If the end is truly in the beginning, then let me say that this was the best ending I have seen on stage in a long, long time. Oh it is delicious! Daniel Brooks struck a genius chord with that choice. That’s all I’ll say, no spoilers here.

The other thought I had watching this (other than did my mom throw out my old essays) was that this show won the Dora Award for best production in 1999. Although it is an expert handling of an important text, I can’t imagine this show winning the Dora today.

I wonder if 15 years ago there wasn’t a company with the same amount of compelling energy, care and budget at the time. What an exciting thought for Toronto’s theatre community, that the best of 1999 is considered the norm today. This is a testament to what Soulpepper has created: both a company and a community where being excellent is simply the norm. What was once the ceiling is now the floor and what has been built in 15 years is awe-inspiring. Brava, Soulpepper, Brava. This show may have been in its beginning, but let there be no end.

Endgame is playing at Soulpepper until November 17, 2012. Matinees begin at 1:30 pm on Wednesday and Saturday, with evening performances at 7:30pm Monday through Saturday.
– Performances take place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Building 49.
-Tickets are $32 to $68. They can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416.866.8666. Rush tickets ($22) may be available an hour before showtime.

One thought on “Review: Endgame (Soulpepper)”

  1. When I went to the box office on Saturday evening 3 Nov., some generous person (not anyone near me) had left an extra ticket, so thanks, anonymous gifter.
    As for Endgame, Beckett isn’t for everyone, but the theatre was near full Sat. eve, so thanks to Soulpepper for mounting it.
    As for that fade, it’s barely perceptible & almost caused me to wonder if I was going squinty-eyed.

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