SOULPEPPER PRODUCTION TOUCHES A NERVE WITH TENSION & HUMOUR
Story by Odessa Paloma Parker
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Nobody likes loss. No one wants to lose a loved one, a favourite thing, or a memory – and, most especially, no one wants to lose hope. Often worse than the experience of the loss, though, is the contemplation and attempt to reason why the loss occurred.
In his 1957 play, Endgame, Samuel Beckett played into the style of the Theatre of the Absurd with a sparse, unsettling story of four individuals trapped by circumstance and bound by guilt, remorse, fear, resignation and perhaps even just the need for plain old companionship. Each character is missing something, whether it be limbs, the ability to walk, to see, or to have freedom; the lack of these qualities, tangible and intangible, is Beckett’s way of representing and exploring the human experience of loss and how it affects us all – differently of course, and sometimes vacillating from one kind of reaction to another in mere moments.
In their current production of this mind-bending masterpiece, Soulpepper cast four actors with the ability to make magic out of a single-room set and a bleak (and often nonsensical) dialogue. The four players wonderfully guided our audience through the emotional (funny, sad, despairing, delusional) struggle we all endure when faced with loneliness and loss.
Drawing a little from Sartre’s notion that “Hell is other people”, the dynamic between the downtrodden Clov (deftly played by Diego Matamoros) and helpless but harsh Hamm (a stellar performance by Joseph Ziegler – tender and brutal in equal measure) is at times painful to watch, but not at all unrelatable. We all know someone – or many people – to whom we feel hopelessly bound, no matter how they treat us. Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell (unfortunately reduced to dwelling legless in garbage cans) were well played by Eric Peterson and Maria Vacratsis, respectively; it takes a strong performer to captivate without the ability to move much.
Perhaps no other relationship in the play cuts more to the bone than that between Hamm, Nagg and Nell. As we get older, we lose our parents – the relationship breaks down from a once utter dependency to just friendship, and eventually total loss through death. To watch his practically prostrated parents live in trash bins, calling on them when he fancied and dismissing them just as quickly, Hamm’s character exercises the very real tendency we have to cast off the bond we have with our parents, but when we need them – that security, that certainty – only to come rushing back to reform the union.
Having studied Endgame in university, the pleasure of seeing such a great cast bring to life the nuances and subtle flow of the piece brought out a richness that’s lost in merely reading and analyzing the script in school. Most notably the humour infused in the dialogue – not as potent unless seen acted out – brought more depth to the characters, and ultimately more tragedy to their situation as you saw them humanized and de-humanized all at once.