Sunday, May 4, 2008

Charles Isherwood reviews Beckett's Endgame

This May, 2, 2008, New York Times Review makes me want to re-read "Endgame." That says it all, doesn't it? Here's two paragraphs (full review linked below) that stood out. I'm writing a longer entry for the blog on Mark E. Smith and The Fall that turned into its own essay. MES the misanthrope and Sam the Grouch appear to the passerby hate us all while they love this fragile life of ours with so little hope. But, on closer attention, their Swiftian outbursts matter only because of their compassion, elusive or quicksilver, thwarting those with stereotypical soundbites or media blather about either one of these idiosyncratic iconoclasts. Apropos, Isherwood's summaries of Beckett's intent scored a couple of hits, palpable hits.

First, after discussing how this Brooklyn Academy of Music production avoids the twin pitfalls of hamming it up or shuffling it down, Isherwood elaborates:
Specifically grim but never merely glum, the production fully taps the self-conscious theatricality of the play (“I’m warming up for my last soliloquy,” Hamm announces toward the end) without letting us forget that its strange figures are appallingly real, enacting a grotesque pantomime of humanity’s hungry need to distract itself by wresting order, meaning and a sliver of satisfaction — just one more sugarplum, please, or maybe a Vicodin — from the formless, aimless, timeless nothingness of life.

Later, analyzing Elaine Stritch's Nell, Isherwood comments on how what was once happy now leaves her face frozen in a rictus rather than a smile of recollection.
The laughter curdles as the ludicrous humor of the situation before us begins to settle uneasily into the mind and wrap itself insidiously around memories of experience, the piles of days and years that drag on and on as they fly by. “It’s like the funny story we have heard too often,” as Nell says. “We still find it funny. But we don’t laugh anymore.”

Think about this when, like me, you next pick up Beckett-- or listen to Mark E. Smith. There's always that time when nothing less will do for the demanding muser or itchy mash-upper. A tiny Venn diagram overlaps, where I raised myself up with (post)punk and reared into Irish lit. Much more about The Fall in tomorrow's blog entry.

Loads of Grim Laughs Among the Garbage Cans Photo: Sara Krulwich. Pictured: John Turturro as Hamm, Stritch as Nell, Alvin Epstein as Nagg. Also: Max Casella as Clov.

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