Fin De Party

Carey Perloff’s surprisingly astute production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (or Fin De Partie in the original French) at the American Conservatory Theater ended with a game-like coda last night at San Francisco’s Geary Theatre.

Killing My Lobster, a local sketch comedy troupe, came on stage at about 10.30pm and performed a bunch of skits inspired by the great Irish playwright and his dramas. The image above captures the crowd gathering drinks and taking their seats before the Lobsters took to the stage. It was quite a party.

This postlude was canny for a bunch of reasons:

1) It brought a bunch of younger people into the Geary Theater (though I don’t know how many of them had also come to see Endgame and Play, which acted as a prequel for the main drama.) Most of the white-haired ACT patrons vacated the premises after the curtain fell on the main show.

2) There’s a compelling link between Perloff’s grimly humorous, clown-centric production which stars one of this country’s best physical comedians, Bill Irwin, and Killing My Lobster’s absurdist approach to sketch comedy. In other words, bringing KML in to the Geary made artistic sense. It was also a refreshing thing to see a big, traditionally-inclined company collaborating with a smaller, more irreverent one.

3) The “three-act” structure of the evening made for a wonderful night out. First we warmed up (if that’s the right expression) with a suitably terse take on Beckett’s sepulchral Play performed by Rene Augesen, Anthony Fusco and Annie Purcell. Then we watched Bill Irwin as a vivacious, wheelchair-bound Hamm go at Nick Gabriel’s youthful-forceful Clov with busy-bodied, facially mobile energy in Endgame. Finally, the Lobsters gave us something to brighten and reinforce the loony darkness of Beckett’s worldview with about 40 minutes of comedic skits.

4) The Killing My Lobster part of the evening was bumpy in some places but mostly came off brilliantly. My favorite section was a wonderfully bonkers skit entitled “Cooking with Clov” in which the Endgame character attempts to make recipes from Beckett’s play — sugarplums and pap — with the help of an aged Katharine Hepburn. There are of course no ingredients to cook with, so the whole project takes on a hilariously – and appropriately – nihilistic bent. Other notable sketches included the inspired “Waiting for Godot to Leave,” in which a randy couple wishes Beckett’s most famous non-appearing character would get out of their house so they can have sex, and “Clov Letters,” in which Hamm and Clov exchange missives about their relationship, a feat made all the most bizarre by the fact that Hamm is blind and can’ actually read the letters Clov sends him.

5) The final skit of the evening featured Bill Irwin, an unexpected coup. Irwin spent his time on stage sitting in Hamm’s dark glasses and reading a braille magazine while a young woman and aspiring theatrical clown sat next to him completely star-struck and wondering how she might possibly pluck up the courage to talk to her hero. Irwin ended up with his hands all over the woman’s breasts. The whole thing was ridiculously crude, but somehow it seemed like a fitting ending to an evening of Beckett, a playwright who managed to marry vulgarity and poetry into a seamless whole.

PS Here‘s Terry Teachout’s review of Endgame in The Wall Street Journal. We more or less share the same opinion of the show.

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  1. says

    I’m a composer. I spent seven years setting theater texts of Samuel Beckett. I knew from the outset that he almost always refused to allow people to set his works. He would not even allow directors to alter his stage directions. I also knew t he was a recluse and thought to be somewhat misanthropic. I did not plan to publish these works. My goal was to learn to write my own texts through long study of Beckett’s work. I learned a huge amount about how to create a new kind of music theater. The seven years were well spent.

    In the mid 80s I made copies of all seven scores I had composed using Beckett’s texts and dropped them off in his mailbox in Paris. I included a recording of one of them made by the Bavarian State Radio during a live performance. I left a note saying I had spent seven years setting his texts and that he might like to see what I had done. I forgot about it, certain I would never hear from him.

    A few weeks later I got a short letter in the mail. The writing was terrible and I couldn’t read it. It didn’t seem like anything important. I was about to throw it away, when I noticed the signature at the bottom: Samuel Beckett.

    He wrote that he was impressed with my work, and that he would like to meet me if I ever had occasion to be in Paris. Naturally, I came up with an “occasion.” He is thought to be the greatest English-language playwright since Shakespeare.

    We met in a café and talked for an hour about theater and music, about my settings, about words, tennis, Haydn sonatas, Schubert Lieder, and other things that interested him. He felt his texts should be performed with very specific rhythms. In my settings I noted the rhythms of even spoken passages. I think that is one reason he found my efforts interesting. He gave me permission for my setting of “Happy Days” and “Ohio Impromptu” and some other works, but I never published them. I wrote them for my wife who performed them with great success here in Germany. Beckett died about a year later. As planned, I later moved on to writing my own texts but Beckett will always be with me.