IF YOU GO
What: Minimalist Samuel Beckett play about four individuals in a post-apocalyptic future
When: 8 p.m. today - Saturday; doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, 2301 First St., downtown Fort Myers
Information: 239-333-1933 or sbdac.com
Something Else: Support Ghostbird on Kickstarter at http://kck.st/13xSOf0
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
Here, at the end of all things, in a desolate wasteland where mankind does little but sit and wait to die, we watch Samuel Beckett. This is "Endgame," the writer's meditative theater of the absurd about religion, death, family, loyalty, chess or maybe nothing at all.
Ghostbird Theatre Company, FGCU graduate Brittney Brady's groundbreaking artistic venture, tackles Beckett for its sophomore outing. Nestled in a heretofore little-used back room of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Brady builds a deeply fascinating, thought-provoking show that defies - to as much a degree as possible - the stultifying effect of some of Beckett's work. Her show doesn't exactly sing, but it certainly offers a glimpse of the avant-garde heights Brady and Ghostbird intend to scale.
"Endgame" defies easy description. Four characters named Clov, Hamm, Nagg and Nell exist in a room. Clov, still able to walk, cares for the others. Nagg and Nell have similarities to Oscar the Grouch in the large, round, tin can with a lid sense, if you know what I mean. Hamm is both blind, carping and in a wheelchair. A lot happens. Nothing happens. It's that kind of a play.
Beckett, the play you would know him for is "Waiting for Godot," writes theater of the absurd. His plays often aren't typical comedies or dramas; Beckett wants to look at both bleakness and despair - and how mankind survives in spite of that.
Ghostbird occupies one of the alcoves off the main hall of the SBDAC. Towering windows add atmosphere, while the stark white walls and loft-like space create a bleeding edge atmosphere that fits both the show and Brady's style like a glove. One note - the room proves unkind to sound; actors need to both speak up and project to prevent to high ceilings from simply swallowing their words.
In "Endgame," Beckett uses a surreal, far-future setting to tinker with the idea of death. The word "endgame" can refer to the final moves of a chess game and the play can be read as an analogy for chess, with actors as players moving seemingly at random in a fruitless search for meaning. That's just one interpretation; I'm not sure exactly what Brady intended, but I got more of a "woe is humanity's future" vibe.
Brady dives into the divisions that form between lives, the cracks that widen into chasms and force people from one another. Her show highlights the essential loneliness of man - the trope that "we are all born alone and we all die alone." There's also a few random whiffs of religion (Beckett loved the Lord), a few allusions to royalty (king, courtiers, joker) and shades of brutal post-apocalyptic survival.
I like a lot of what Brady does - and I can see the potential in so many of her choices. I wish she could make the action and dialogue sharper, crisper and push her cast to execute with more meaning. Even in theater of the absurd, the events have meaning; too much of the stagecraft and especially the delivery feels like it doesn't emphasize anything at all.
As with Ghostbird's inaugural effort, I also wish the work were just slightly more relatable. Granted, this is Beckett - the audience should expect to work - but I felt like a mule that had just plowed the north 40.
Armando Rivera, just off FGCU TheatreLab's production of "Savage Love," brings a withering weariness to Clov, the broken but not destroyed man shuffling around at the heart of the story. Rivera, with one leg stiff, an arm limp and back slumped, slams and bangs and clumps in a mockery of graceful movement.
The character mocks the idea of beauty, of perfection. Yet, in Rivera, Brady allows Clov to find a sort of grace in the way the actor moves through the space, toting a tiny two-rung stepladder back and forth to the tall windows to peer out into nothingness. Rivera's quicksilver physicality gives the role just the spark of life it needs to represent the one flicker of hope inside Beckett's sprawl of misery.
A pair of Brady's mentors, FGCU professors Barry Cavin and James Brock, appear in the show as Hamm and Nagg, respectively. At least three more theatre department faculty members and various students attended on opening night. Cavin adds snap as demanding, enfeebled Hamm, the blind lord of all he can't survey. I wish the role were more of a towering, menacing presence, although that's my interpretation of the play.
Brock (Nagg) and Rachel Bennett (Nell) play senile, decrepit ancestors. The characters serve as commentary on society and mankind - and represent death itself - a fate the characters must either accept or fight. I wish Brady developed the theme a little more, although I love both the set design (Brady & Rivera) and Katelyn Gravel's imaginative costumes, hair and make-up.
Ghostbird offers a solid take on a tough play with "Endgame." The space shows promise, as does Brady's ability to excavate meaning from the most metaphorical of scripts. In the mood to put on your thinking caps? Put Ghostbird and Beckett in your book and get a look at the edgiest new theatre group in Fort Myers. You'll be glad you did.
The king is dead. Long live the king. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.