Arts & Events

Theater Review: Oleg Liptsin's Production of Beckett's 'Endgame

By Ken Bullock
Friday July 12, 2013 - 11:02:00 AM

"What else is there to keep me here?”... "The dialogue!"

Oleg Liptsin, the Bay Area's resident veteran of Russia's outstanding theater of the late 20th century, has produced a marvel—an intimate, remarkably original show of Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, 'Endgame,' billed as being in Laurel and Hardy style, even opening with the great comic pair's theme music, but more of wonderfully bittersweet comedy of the endlessly repeated encounter of a longwinded old master in his wheelchair, appropriately named Hamm(Greg Young), his skittering, ever-upright servant Clov (Liptsin)—and interruptions, asides by Hamm's captive parents (in adjoining dumpsters) Nagg (Phil Estrin) and Nell (Gale Bradley), as well as a few eruptions from the light booth and some well-chosen video footage, counterpoint to Hamm's drawn-out tale of acquiring a boy servant from a starving man—probably the young Clov, though Hamm's too coy to say. 

The setting's a bare room with two covered windows, Nagg and Nell's dumpsters, and Hamm swathed like a mummy in his wheelchair, all of which Clov unwraps with little sighs and chuckles, a weird Christmas present for the audience. Later, he scans the horizon through a spyglass, intent on reporting the "Zero “he sees in the wake of some entropic apocalypse. 

Lipsin's stylizations of Clov, the servant unable to sit down, recall the grimaces and wild poses of the silent film comedians—and a voice never heard in Talkies. Young plays Hamm more naturalistically, the two captive old folks magnificently delineated as vaudevillians, Nagg an acerbic raconteur, Nell a sour ingénue, backward-looking: "Ah, yesterday." 

Brimming with paradox, it's a series of overly serious yet funny games, about wanting to leave home but sticking around, played out in a well-rehearsed hysteria, power trips succeeded by tender moments of intimacy, foaming resentment followed by shared mirth .. 

If you see one "different" theater show this year, make it 'Endgame,' one of the few Beckett productions I've ever seen that grasps his humor and melancholy humanity whole, framing his quartet of”fantastics” with the clockwork of theater that makes them tick, striking the hour of heartbeat and laughter: "Are you crying again?" ... "I'm trying! “ 

Thursday-Saturday through July 20, Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa at Harrison, San Francisco's Mission District. $24 (wine and snacks included), some discounts. (510) 854-6242,