By Richard Ades
There’s something ironic about seeing Endgame while celebrating the opening of a new theater. Samuel Beckett’s dark comedy, after all, is not about beginnings. It’s about the end of the world.
Hamm and Clov (Michael Garrett Herring and Alex Foor) spend their days in a decrepit dwelling perched between the land and the sea. Outside their tiny windows, the planet seems to be dead or dying from some unnamed catastrophe.
Hamm cannot see or walk. Clov, conversely, cannot sit. The two have a quarrelsome relationship thanks to Hamm’s constant demands that he be humored or served. These spring not only from his helplessness but from the pleasure he seems to take in making Clov’s life even more miserable than it would otherwise be.
The only other characters are Nagg and Nell (Roger Masten and Rebecca Zelanin), Hamm’s aged parents, who live in side-by-side trash cans. Though the two regard each other with tired affection, Hamm makes no secret of his hatred of them for bringing him into the world.
Despite the depressing situation and the central character’s rampant misanthropy, Endgame can be an enjoyable experience if a production makes the most of its rich, philosophical language and dour, sometimes self-referential humor. Red Herring’s production, directed by Verne Hendrick and Keely Heyl, generally hits the proper notes.
Foor’s Clov is slow, deliberate and resentful of Hamm’s bossiness. His growing despair and anger are subtly revealed in Foor’s shuffling gait and passive-aggressive tone of voice.
Masten’s Nagg is solicitous toward his wife but barely tolerates his son, boredom emanating from his face as he listens to Hamm’s long-winded storytelling in exchange for a promised treat. Masten’s brittle characterization makes the character both funny and pitiable. (Co-director Hendrick will play Nagg at the May 24 performance.)
In the smaller role of Nell, Zelanin is convincingly distracted and feeble, though she occasionally starts to fall into a Katharine Hepburn impersonation. (Linda Browning will take over the role May 19-29.)
Herring, one of the troupe’s executive producers, carries the bulk of the load as Hamm. He mostly carries it with distinction, though on opening night some of his later speeches could have been delivered more expressively.
Designed by Herring, the set is a combination of roughhewn boards and ancient tools and utensils. Topher Dick’s lighting and Dayton Willison’s grimy, threadbare costumes add to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
The opening-night performance was not perfect, with a line dropped here and there or delivered indifferently, but it communicated the sad and mysterious essence of Beckett’s play well enough to be rewarding. But even if it hadn’t, the chance to get a first look at Red Herring’s new Franklinton home would have made the trip worthwhile.
Though the warehouse-like building is not yet finished, it’s roomy and comfortable enough to reveal its potential. Red Herring plans to share it with other groups in between its own shows, which should make the venue a valuable addition to a part of the city that’s increasingly becoming a hub of creativity.
Red Herring Productions will present Endgame through May 29 at the Franklinton Playhouse, 566 W. Rich St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, plus 2 p.m. May 15 and 29. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Tickets are $20 in advance, pay what you want at the door. 614-723-9116 or redherring.info.