Joseph Ziegler doesn’t always ham it up as Hamm in Endgame.
ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). To November 17. $51-$68, some discounts. 416-866-8666. See listing
How appropriate that Soulpepper's fine production of Endgame should open in the wake of Hurricane Sandy's destruction. The characters in Samuel Beckett's post-apocalyptic play carry on even in the bleakest circumstances.
After a clever bit of self-conscious theatricality - a rickety old curtain rising on Julie Fox's spare, colourless set - we see a figure frozen mid-motion like a statue. Once the lights snap on, the stooped Clov (Diego Matamoros) scurries about, attempting to look out two tiny windows that seem to offer no view. Soon he removes a shroud to reveal his blind, despotic master, Hamm (Joseph Ziegler), located at dead centre stage.
Not much happens in the conventional sense, but we get a feel for their codependent relationship and Clov's sense of entrapment, although he's certainly not as constricted as Hamm's parents, Nagg (Eric Peterson) and Nell (Maria Vacratsis), who briefly pop their heads out of garbage cans to talk.
This existential scenario, while not as revolutionary as it must have been when it debuted in the 1950s, still has power. Hamm's lines about theatre - he quotes Shakespeare and discusses asides and dialogue - get laughs but also reinforce the idea that their own theatrical tragicomedy represents our struggle simply to survive.
The production is a reworking by director Daniel Brooks of his own Dora Award-winning staging from 1999. I remember feeling more affected by that version - perhaps because of the more elegant venue (then the Premiere Dance Theatre) but also because of the cagey, sinister performance by Peter Donat as Hamm. Maybe he was a hammier Hamm? Ziegler elicits more empathy, and so the central master-slave relationship feels unbalanced.
But the design and the other performances remain strong, with Peterson's grinning spectre boring its way into your imagination and making you reconsider the idea of poor white trash.