— L-R: Josh Drebit and Ryan Beil in Main Street Theatre's Endgame. Photo: Stephen Malloy
“There’s nothing funnier than unhappiness,” says Nell, poking her head out of a garbage can in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. There’s an awful lot of unhappiness in Beckett’s absurd scenario of humankind at the end of days. Main Street Theatre’s production of the play for the Tremors Festival also finds some of the fun in it, but don’t expect belly laughs.
Apocalypse has never looked shabbier than in the claustrophobic confines of Little Mountain Gallery, the weary storefront just off Main Street where this company has staged dynamic productions of David Mamet and Sam Shepard over the past few years. Director/designer Stephen Malloy has built a high platform on which blind, wheelchair-bound Hamm and his reluctant servant Clov play out their final hours in what might be a bomb shelter. Clov has to stoop to keep from bumping his head on the ceiling and hardly has room to wheel Hamm around his tiny domain.
“Something is taking its course,” remarks Clov. That something, in Beckett’s grim existential vision, might just be life. (It might also be radiation poisoning, the play having premiered in 1957 at the height of the Cold War.) Just as in Waiting for Godot, no saviour is coming to the rescue: “You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that.”
Hamm keeps his dying parents, Nagg and Nell, in garbage cans, an apt metaphor for the indignities of age. Crippled Hamm himself regularly asks Clov for painkiller. But there’s none of that, either.
There is, though, memory (“Ah, yesterday,” Nell sighs), the need for company, and the compulsion to self-justify. Hamm keeps telling a story about his generosity in agreeing to take in the young Clov. But Hamm’s life has been all about egotism, not altruism. And in the end does it really matter? Death may be terrifying but it will come as a relief. “When I fall,” says Clov, “I’ll weep for happiness.”
Ryan Beil is very good as Clov, mechanically deadpan except when the bitterness he barely holds in check sporadically explodes. Though Beil is the company’s primo comedian, Josh Drebit’s Hamm has most of the funny stuff, commenting on the quality of his own storytelling in nicely understated asides. But Hamm is also a ham, and Drebit’s performance is so contained that we miss the fun his pomposity ought to provide. Alongside Daryl King’s incessantly angry Nagg, Sasa Brown’s breathy, gasping Nell is heartbreaking.
If the Canucks’ season ended earlier than you hoped, seeing how this game ends might put that in perspective.