We’re on a theatre trip to Chicago and thought we’d share our thoughts on the plays we’re seeing, along with some ideas from the plays you can use in your own theatre program.

Here’s our look at Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Presented by Steppenwolf.

Click here to see the video.


Craig: Hey!

Lindsay: Hello!

Craig: So, we’re continuing with our Chicago theatre trip.

Lindsay: This is our last video for this trip.

Craig: Yes, and we just saw Endgame at Steppenwolf Theatre by Samuel Beckett. Endgame is a play very, very simple to describe. Lindsay, just tell us in one sentence what the play is all about, what happens, etc.

Lindsay: Okay. Well, we’ve got four characters in Endgame – Hamm, who cannot stand, Clov, who cannot sit and is Hamm’s servant, and then we have Hamm’s parents, neither of whom have legs and live in barrels. And the outside world is pretty much a zero, very reminiscent of an apocalyptic world, although Beckett strongly denied that this was the case.

Craig: Oh, really?

Lindsay: Yeah.

Craig: Oh.

Lindsay: [Laughs]

Craig: I didn’t know that, but I thought it was a post-apocalyptic world.

Lindsay: I know, that’s what comes across, but apparently that was strongly denied. And so there is nothing outside the world, there is nothing to eat, there are no painkillers. It’s described as a zero. The world is a zero, and it’s pretty much like they are waiting to die.

Craig: They’re playing the endgame.

Lindsay: They’re playing the endgame, right? So…

Craig: [Laughs]

Lindsay: I’ll have to say, we’re at a little bit of a loss purposefully because we both felt that the play has something to say. You know, it is a good play. We felt that the production that we saw at Steppenwolf was at the top of its class, you know, very accomplished actors doing a very accomplished job. You probably couldn’t see a better production. But I didn’t like the play. Did you like it?

Craig: I don’t know. See, I don’t know if I like the play or not. But I’ll tell you this, I can’t stop like thinking about it. Every so often, another image pops into my mind about the play. It’s not a play you rush out and go, “Wow, that’s great! I can’t wait to tell everyone to go see it.” [Laughs]

Lindsay: And it does have a really interesting point, and something that you can use in the classroom because I know that drama criticism is something that’s part of the curriculum. So when you criticize a play, it’s really important that you look at it as a whole, but also you look at the pieces.

Craig: Yeah.

Lindsay: You can’t just say, “I don’t like that play,” snap, snap, snap. You have to go, “Okay, what is it specifically that I don’t like about the play?” I think, for me, I didn’t like that they were waiting for death and that there was nothing. There was nothing that was going to save them. I think in my mind, rightly or wrongly, I think that the two characters are waiting for something, someone, to save them, and that made such a big difference. To have characters waiting to die, it’s not my idea of how I want to spend an hour and a half.

Craig: I think it was one of those things where if you go down the line, writing – 9 out of 10, acting – 10 out of 10, directing – 10 out of 10, overall experience – 4. So. [Laughs]

Lindsay: What does that mean?

Craig: What does that say?

Lindsay: What does that say? So, and then the other thing to bring up is I have to say that excellent performance, the audience did not enjoy this play. Now, and we were at…

Craig: We were at a matinee.

Lindsay: We were at a matinee, and by and large, the age of the theatregoers was over 60.

Craig: We were pretty much the youngest people there.

Lindsay: We were the youngest people there, so that begs another question.

Craig: Oh, I’m sorry, I have to interrupt, because we had one of those awesome theatre experiences where…

Lindsay: Oh boy.

Craig: …you’re going to see Endgame and you’re sitting down waiting for the show to start, and then like a group of like six old ladies comes and sits behind you…

Lindsay: Stereotypical.

Craig: And then, [laughs] a few minutes before curtain they pull out their program, and they go, “Hmm, let’s see what this is about.” And you think, “Oh my goodness, we’re in for a good ride here.”

Lindsay: Not only that, and then, in the next two seconds, one woman is looking through the program and she says, “Oh, I think we’re going to be depressed.”

Craig: Yeah. [Laughs]

Lindsay: “But we’re going to go out and have a nice dinner afterwards.” And it’s like, hmm. Okay, so…

Craig: So we didn’t go out for a nice dinner afterwards, but we did go out for a pint of beer.

Lindsay: We did, because it was that kind of experience.

Craig: Okay, so let’s wrap it up.

Lindsay: Wait.

Craig: Oh.

Lindsay: Okay, so it also comes to this point when choosing challenging plays. Is Beckett still right for this time? Is it still relevant? Should theatre companies be doing this kind of work where a portion of their audience really doesn’t enjoy it? And on the other note, should audiences be more open? Should they be open for that challenging experience? Should theatres have more thought about their audiences when they choose this stuff? And so think about the plays that you are choosing. Who are you choosing them for? Are you choosing them for your students? Are you choosing them because judges will like them? Are you choosing them because you know that some of your students may not like it but you want to challenge them anyway? It is an excellent point of discussion. I mean, as Craig and I [00:05:19] we haven’t stopped really talking about this notion, you know, is theatre like, you know, a cup of medicine or…?

Craig: I think theatre companies should challenge their audience. Nothing is more disappointing than a theatre company that looks like it’s pandering to their audience. And I think that no company is more positioned to push an audience than Steppenwolf.

Lindsay: True that.

Craig: Which I found really strange to see the audience that they attracted there.

Lindsay: Okay.

Craig: Let’s wrap this up. [Laughs]

Lindsay: That’s it. Again, we had nothing but very interesting theatrical experiences here in Chicago, and we can’t wait to come back.

About the author

Craig Mason