Review: ‘Endgame’ at United States Naval Academy

The Masqueraders’ production of Endgame, performed at the United States Naval Academy, is a powerful piece of theater. Samuel Beckett’s classic 1957 play, considered one of his best after Waiting for Godot, depicts four people trying to survive in “a post-apocalyptic world.” This version, directed by Professor Christy Stanlake, suggests “a world environmental collapse” as the reason for the earth’s devastation, and is a triumph of wonderful acting and directing combined with inventive set design and lighting.

The idea of a destroyed world becomes immediately clear upon first entering the theater at Mahan Hall, looking at the grotesque set designed by Hunter McGavran. Built to resemble a ruined house, the backdrop is a wall with innumerable stains and with the top right side ripped off. In the center of the wall are two tall windows covered by colored transparent tarps, one yellow that looks out on the earth, the other blue for the sea.

A filthy-looking mess hangs from the top of the missing wall, and numerous pieces of scrap and junk lay in piles across the stage. On the right is a dirty cloth covering two steel drums, both of which are covered in orange stains. In the center, close to the audience, another heavily-stained cloth covers a mass, which is pulled off shortly after the play’s start. It seems impossible that anyone could live in such a filthy place, and yet, people do.

Allen Sand gives a wearied physicality to the role of Clov, stooped over and clomping around in heavy boots. The few times he genuinely laughs, he doubles over in pleasure. The only character who can walk but not sit, he reluctantly does all the labor in the play, from pulling himself up a short ladder to peering through the very bottom of the windows, to getting supplies from the other room to the other characters.

He lets Hamm (Jon Mendez) order him around, occasionally snapping at him in exasperation. There is a suppressed anger to him, which comes through briefly as he remembers Hamm’s past cruelty to others. Towards the end, at Hamm’s insistence, he faces the audience and gives an emotional monologue with tears on his face. Even at the end, carrying a suitcase preparing to leave, he stands in the corner, still there.

Jon Mendez dominates the stage as Hamm, both physically and emotionally, sitting in a chair front and center like a lunatic king. At the start, he takes a bloody handkerchief off his face. Although he cannot see, he projects authority, ordering Clov around in sometimes meaningless tasks. Under his chair is a satchel with rollers; he has Clov push him around the room so he can touch it. Returning to the front, there is some physical comedy in his insistence of being in the exact center and Clov roughly adjusting the chair.

His voice is filled with contempt, assuming that Clov will leave him. He has some vulnerable moments, though, with his dog, a small, three-legged stuffed animal that he pets. He reaches out to touch Clov at times, reassuring himself of his presence. But then he throws away the dog in anger and tries in frustration to move his chair on his own. In the end, with Clov silent, fear momentarily passes on his face, although it soon passes. Hamm and Clov’s relationship resembles that of a dysfunctional patient-caretaker, with all its complexities.

Cody Oliphant, who plays the role on Fridays, gives anger to Nagg. He pops out from the drum, only his head and arms visible, yelling to be fed. He looks on impatiently as Hamm tells his rambling, messy story, closing his eyes in ecstasy at the mention of “porridge.” His voice is full of bitterness and vengeance at the end. Julia Kalshoven gives Nell a tiredness as she emerges from the other drum. Nagg is more tender to her, eager to tell her an old and long joke, emphasizing the dirty parts. She listens in quiet resignation, wistfully sighing while remembering the pleasures of “yesterday.” They strain their necks trying to kiss, too far apart. She slides back down into the drum, reaching out for Clov. Nicolas Hajek plays Nagg on Saturdays.

As Costume Designer, Julia Kalshoven continues the theme of world collapse with her distinctive outfits. Clov wears a long gray shirt, brown pants, a dark brown vest, and heavy black boots, later putting on a straw hat. Hamm looks like the leader of a ruined world in a purple shirt, black cravat, orange sports coat, dark maroon pants, Russian-style cap, and reflective aviator goggles. Nagg wears a white shirt, brown tunic, and purple cap. Nell has a purple bonnet, purple fingerless gloves, and a multicolored dress.

As Lighting Designer, Hunter McGavran uses subtle changes in the light to reflect the shifts in mood. The light slightly darkens when Hamm tells his story to Clov and Nagg. When Clov speaks to the audience in “heartfelt words” at Hamm’s suggestion, the light expands to include him. The light slowly darkens as Hamm speaks his final lines. Sound Designer Noah Martinolich sets the mood by playing mysterious music as the audience walks in.

Christy Stanlake has done a wonderful job as director. The actors work well together, navigating the stage and one another. They successfully capture Beckett’s style in which, Dramaturg Joy Solmonson writes, “characters…are excessively distracted, repeat themselves, and show large gaps in memory.” Posters in the lobby with photos of and information about current environmental damage continues the discussion began by the play. The Masqueraders should be commended for tackling this challenging play and tying it to such an important theme. Only two shows remain, so see it while you can!

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Endgame plays through November 17, 2018, in Mahan Hall at the United States Naval Academy – 121 Blake Road in Annapolis, MD 21402. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 293-8497 or purchase them online.