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Famous Actors Who Have Played Beckett's "Endgame"

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(L–R) Alan Mandell and James Greene (background) in "Endgame" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

In Endgame, which plays the Kirk Douglas Theatre April 24 – May 22, 2016, one character is blind and unable to stand, one is unable to sit, and two spend the entirety of the play squatting in ash bins. One would expect actors to be less than excited by the prospect of performing any of the four roles in Samuel Beckett’s famous tragicomedy, but the exact opposite is true. Actor Simon McBurney once remarked, “Beckett is special, Endgame particularly so. It is unlike anything else I have played: fastidiously specific, utterly elusive. At any one moment in the performance, you will be aware of someone laughing hysterically, another weeping, while others sit silent, astounded or baffled.”

With a combined age of over 400, Alan Mandell, Barry McGovern, James Greene,  Anne Gee Byrd, and Charlotte Rae are one of the most experienced casts ever to take on these challenging roles.  In honor of their virtuosity, we have gathered a list of other actors who have wrestled with Endgame.

Hugo Weaving, Hamm (Sydney Theatre Company, 2015)

Hugo Weaving is probably best known for roles like Agent Smith in The Matrix and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings trilogies, but in 2015 Weaving donned blacked-out glasses and stepped into the role of Hamm—a wheelchair-bound pontificator—for the Sydney Theatre Company production of Endgame. He told The Guardian: “The music and structure of the piece is very clear. If you veer from that to any great extent, you’re in big trouble. But when you do find your own lives within that form, then it can be a very joyful experience. Beckett has the most amazing sense of humor. All his writing is infused with it.”

Luke Mullins, Clov (Melbourne Theatre Company, 2015)

2015 was a banner year for Endgame in Australia. In the Melbourne Theatre Company production, Luke Mullins—an award-winning Australian actor and frequent Beckett interpreter—played Clov. He spoke about the process in a 2015 interview with The Guardian: “So many of [Beckett’s] pieces are just exquisitely written, perfect objects. It’s incredibly satisfying to have such a clear set of instructions to follow that if you do follow them—not so much obey, but really follow—it’s creating something you couldn’t otherwise do as an actor.”

Elaine Stritch, Nell (Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008)

Elaine Stritch brought her incomparable wit and pathos to the role of Nell for the 2008 Brooklyn Academy of Music production of Endgame. While many actors speak of Beckett with awe and deference, Stritch took a pithier approach telling The Gothamist: “I think maybe you have to be as old as I am to understand [Beckett]. I don’t think you can fake anything onstage but if you could fake an author I think he would be a good one to fake. Because everyone in the audience is having trouble too! So you can kind of join forces with them. They come back and say, ‘God, this is hard to understand.’ And I say, ‘No s*** Dick Tracy.’”

Alvin Epstein, Nagg (Irish Repertory Theatre, 2005 & Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008)

Alvin Epstein is an absolute OG interpreter of Beckett’s work. He performed in the first American productions of both Waiting for Godot and Endgame, and in 2005 and 2008, he climbed into a ash bin to play Hamm’s father, Nagg—first for The Irish Repertory Theater and then alongside Stritch at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In an interview for Jonathan Kalb’s 1989 book, Beckett in Performance, Epstein defended Endgame’s ambiguous ending: “I’m now a firm believer in not answering questions that Beckett doesn’t answer. If Beckett leaves it open, it’s because he doesn’t want it answered, and in a deeper sense, he isn’t even asking—the question is irrelevant.”

Simon McBurney, Clov (Théâtre de Complicité, 2009)

Simon McBurney is the founder and artistic director of the decorated Théâtre de Complicité in London and a sought-after performer with an IMDB page that stretches on and on. In 2009—after two of his leads dropped out—McBurney decided to play the role of Clov in the Complicité production himself. Shortly after, he described what it was like in an editorial for The Guardian: “S***, they laughed there last night. I squirm in annoyance. Shut up—stop thinking of the audience. But you can’t with Beckett. It’s like trying to stop thinking of the ground beneath you when you are 2,000 ft up in the air, watching a landscape spread out beneath you. One false move and nothing means anything.”

John Turturro, Hamm (Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2008)

John Turturro is a decorated thespian and a frequent collaborator of Joel and Ethan Coen, gracing both the silver screen and Broadway stages alike. In 2008, he played Hamm at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Stritch and Epstein. Turturro spoke to Beckett’s idiosyncratic voice in an interview with WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show: “People are sometimes so afraid of [Beckett] because he’s approached so intellectually.  And he was a person who read everything. There wasn’t anything that he didn’t read. But in the end, it took him a long time to find his voice, and when he did it was a personal voice.”

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