Saw the Rep's production of Endgame last night. It was very good. It's a great script and they took a unique approach to it. The unique set was amazing, when their cloudscape curtain opened exposing this round inside-a-rusted-out-submarine looking space my jaw dropped. The contrast of this bright orange behemouth against the pale blue light on the actors was intense to say the least.
And the acting was supurb. Nag and Nel were nearly flawless, i can't imagine a better telling of the story about the trousers. Corkin's Hamm was also the best I've seen, despite some things that kind of irked me. Lee Ernst commited to a Clov with energy and comic timing to match the funniest clowns out there.
Thing is, despite all these things, this was not the best Beckett that i've seen. In the most important ways, it was the least effective. I have fonder memories of UWM students doing it 8 years ago, or the low budget production at PRP THTR in Chicago. Even the Boulevard's Godot beat The Rep's Endgame. Despite their flaws, these productions evoked Beckett in a way that the Rep didn't, for all its bells and whistles.
The reason for this? The Rep's production was distracting. I found myself looking at the set, or laughing at the delivery of the lines, rather than contemplating the futility and pointlessness of what i was seeing performed. I was too overstimulated to feel hopeless or pathetic. Corkin and Ernst were hilarious and it was interesting to see Beckett played up like a comedy, but I feel like this comedic impulse was at cross purposes with the thrust of the play. Many lines were delivered with the dumb sarcasm that i associate with modern sitcoms and animated television, this made the rest of the lines seem anachronistic.
Clov has a lot of vaudville business in the script, it's true, and Ernst played that part to the hilt, but i've always thought that vaudville gags in Beckett were funnier if played straight. I want these characters to be so feeble minded, and this world so absurd that they honestly can't behave sensibly despite their very best efforts. I want Clov to be truely bewildered by the disappearance of his steps, and then truely frustrated with himself when he turns around to get them again. I want to see one of the fabled productions where this 90 minute play is stretched out for hours because Clov actually plods slowly along in real pain because he CAN'T go any faster. I want Hamm to mean it when he comments on the ironic futility of his existance, i want that irony to be accidental, stumbled upon, not said as a joke.
The most frustrating thing is, all these things that distracted and annoyed me about this production, were probably the only things that much of the Rep's audience liked. Maybe i'm prejudiced, but i suspect that these decisions were made to pander to the Rep's aging benefactors, and the play suffered for it. Moreso, i don't think it worked. On our way out of the theatre a gaggle of middle aged women complained that "this was worse than the one with the dead baby!" and "i wish the lights would have been a little brighter, i was looking for something to read in the program to at least pass the time". If the Rep had done a more uncompromising, minimal, heavy and slow Beckett, they would have tunred off more people, but they would've effected the ones they did connect with much more deeply.
Compromise is not always the best solution, and maybe a company that's beholden to make large elaborate sets to prove that they're doing something with people's money should stick to producing shit like The Night is a Child (a play so lame, shallow and ultimately fucking EMPTY that i won't waste another word on it) and leave compelling theatre like Beckett to other groups.