When choosing a script for the next production he was to direct, Robert Cohen looked no further than to the man who gave him the initial spark of inspiration that began his professional career as a director and scholar: Samuel Beckett.
While attending UC Berkeley, Cohen directed an all-undergraduate production of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” that was picked up by a professional producer, and he brings his career back to where he started with his latest production of another of Beckett’s classics, “Endgame,” performed by UCI graduate drama students.
It is difficult to understand the meaning of Beckett’s play, although it has intrigued audiences for quite some time. It almost seems as if Beckett purposely wrote “Endgame” as a play with endless meanings that only he can understand. He even taunts the audience with lines such as, “We’re not beginning … to … to … mean something? Mean something? You and I mean something?”
Despite the text’s ambiguous nature, Beckett demanded precision in productions of his works and Cohen made sure that his actors remained true to Beckett’s wishes. The stage direction to the opening of the play calls for Clov to take six steps to the right and later, four steps to the left. As required, thirdyear graduate actor Tyler Seiple took six steps to the right and then four steps to the left.
The precision of the drama department’s production was absolutely remarkable. When the text called for a pause, the pause wasn’t treated as a pointless silence, or a time to take a breath. The entire cast understood the need to treat the pauses with as much importance as they do the words. Studies have stated that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal and one need look no further than the performances put on by the cast of “Endgame” to prove this.
The show was powered by the chemistry of Tyler Seiple and Benny Wills, who played resistant dependants Clov and Hamm. Their characters are exact opposites of each other. One can’t stand up and the other can’t sit down. One relies on others for help and the other is the only one who can help. One has the knowledge that is needed to survive, but the other is left without a clue. They hate each other yet need each other to survive.
This relationship resembles the relationship Wills and Seiple have formed on the stage. Not that they hate each other, but their performances wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if it weren’t for the other’s presence. Seiple’s fake laughter and depression would seem exaggerated without watching how Wills treats him on the stage. Wills’ reluctance about Seiple’s exit wouldn’t seem realistic without seeing how hard Seiple works for him.
They continued to challenge each other and raise the stakes until they couldn’t go any higher. This created a sense of urgency and more importantly, it created a powerful relationship on a stage where it seemed nothing was going on.
Samuel Beckett signed off on Cohen’s production of “Endgame” over 40 years earlier, and the letter is provided for the audience to see. Every aspect of “Endgame” seems like an important message the entire world is supposed to understand. The thick dramaturge’s notebook that serves as the show’s program has more information and back-story than any department production I’ve seen. This production of “Endgame” is very representative of the entire play – it reeks of self-importance and everyone knows it. However, nobody understands why.