In the evening hours after five, I met with resident Joycean, Shelly Brivic, at the Tuttleman lobby. Dark already descended on campus as daylight savings time came into effect days before. Perhaps, it was the same day I gathered the courage to call Shelly at the bequest of my friend, Prof. Josh Lukin. I had known about the Dublin-based Gate Theatre’s production of Beckett’s Endgame from walking down Chestnut Street (or Walnut?), and seeing posters for the play in front of Penn’s Annenberg Center. As a self-proclaimed, Irishman, –I don’t have a modicum of Irish blood in me–I had the urge to go, and maybe down a pint of the black stuff.
Shelly suggested we take the subway from Cecil B. Moore to City Hall, then the trolley. Perhaps the El train would be better, I thought, but then he noted how the trolley stops right in front of the theatre. He was right. When we made the transfer to the trolley station beneath the Occupiers, we talked about a poem I wrote for Hyphen, which dealt with the downward spiral of a college relationship. I tried deflecting the moderately embarrassing questions with a poem my friend, Kristen Stabile, also published inHyphen, wrote about a similar situation.
It had occurred to me that the rain was starting to soak my hair and Shelly’s socks, which were hiking sandals meant for bare feet in Appalachia, and not the puddles and gravel of University City. Thankfully, the walk from the trolley to the theatre was brief, albeit cold and windy. My glasses and I assume Shelly’s as well, were coated in rain.
I had visited the Annenberg Theatre once before with my father and a man I met with my mother from a previous Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) concert, Michael Dutton. (Dutton and his date, a seemingly cosmopolitan woman named Genevieve –she used the word “furnished” as in “Furnish me your address”–somehow knew Mr. Marsalis. I was allowed to enter the green room, a thrill of my life, and met the rest of the LCJO. There was free champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. I was 14.) We watched Wynton Marsalis perform with his trio from his (then) latest album. Now I was here with Shelly to watch Beckett’s Endgame.
My cellphone was off, however, while my friend, Katie, tried to call me repeatedly. I have a habit of not having my phone fully charged because I lose my charger. (A metaphor for my life?) It dawned on me to call Katie while we were waiting in the Annenberg’s open-aired, brick-walled waiting area. She was walking from the El train, foregoing her usual modus operandi of riding a road bicycle.
Katie arrived. I could tell Shelly was pleased because he said that he was glad she could make it and now they could talk about her recent paper on Joyce’s Ulysses, an academic fire-walk that I once traversed last semester. The paper, which I read, was rather good. Shelly generally agreed, but in his usual manner, had offer a list of points of improvement. Katie and I nodded in agreement, then I made a gesture signaling we should head down to theatre.
The Prince Theatre (not to be confused with the Prince Theatre on Chestnut Street in Center City) was petite with seats on a steep slant. Katie and I sat next to each other while Shelly sat by himself –he purchased his tickets before us. The audience, I imagined, was comprised of academics with graying hair, probably coming from grading papers, or departmental meetings, or conducting lectures in wooden-paneled halls wearing tweed. The play commenced when the lights were turned down to maximum darkness like a movie theatre.
Endgame is a play involving four characters: Hamm, Clov, Nell, and Nagg. Clov seems to be Hamm’s manservant, and Nell and Nagg are Hamm’s parents. The stage is bare (as is most of Beckett’s oeuvre), and Hamm sleeps in a La-Z-Boy with dark sunglasses over his eyes and a handkerchief covering his visage. His parents live in two large trashcans. Clov moves about the stage looking out of a window, one on each side, with a telescope. The play is about everything and nothing, a kind of experience one has to read or witness, rather than reading verbose plot summaries or reductive Wiki pages on Google. Here is a taste of the play:
Nell: Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. But…Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it’s always the same thing. Yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh anymore. (19)
Here is a link to the film version of “Endgame.” Admittedly, it is shorter than the staged version, but has Harry Potter alums, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) and David Thewlis (Professor Lupin). The actors for the Gate Theatre’s production, Owen Roe (Hamm), Barry McGovern (Clov), Rosaleen Linehan (Nell), and Des Keogh (Nagg), were featured in the same series of Beckett on Film DVDs, which you can find at Paley Library. There were moments where I was hysterically laughing (though I am a strange bird), and many times where my glasses fogged and I had to wipe the lenses and rub my eyes from the occasional leaking tear.
Suffice to say, it was an excellent evening. Shelly, Katie, and I talked about Beckett, Derrida, Lacan, Shelly’s fifteen (!) trips to Florence, and James Joyce on our way back to 30th Street Station. He mentioned how he almost met Derrida in Germany, but was afraid to visit since he’s Jewish, Katie talked about her interests in Russian Literature, and I was the navigator back to the station. It occurred to me that in some way, we were recreating Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus’ walk through Dublin in that everyman’s epic, Ulysses. Perhaps that feeling only comes once in a while, like an unexpected present. But the theatre gave that to us.
What were your experiences with theatre? and Beckett?