Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Set of Endgame

Here it is, for your enjoyment: the paper I wrote about the set of Endgame, which we saw as a class at a theater in Harvard Square. It's not half bad, except I always hate writing conclusion paragraphs (and you can probably tell).


Endgame is a very uncomfortable play, and the production we saw in Harvard Square was uncomfortable to watch. Using confined spaces, harsh lighting, and gloomy colors, the set not only gave a gloomy appearance matching the themes of the play, but also induced the associated feelings in the audience.

The aspect of the set which struck me most strongly as soon as the curtain was raised was its location and lighting. The single room in which all of the play takes place was harshly lit and at first glance appeared to be floating. The floor of the room was located several feet above the location where the audience expected the stage floor to be based on the proportions of the theater. The room was brightly lit but the area around it was in utter darkness. It was completely impossible to see any detail in the surrounding area, leading to the impressing that the set was floating in a complete abyss. It took me several uncomfortable minutes to adjust to this disorienting configuration.

The characters play out their lives in an ambiguous world which cannot be completely identified. The viewer cannot be sure if the play is taking place in the past, present or future. In fact, the viewer cannot even be sure if the play is taking place on Earth, or perhaps in some supernatural other dimension. The characters are completely isolated from the outside world, but more than that, the outside world may not even exist. The text of the play imposes such a harsh feeling of isolation that the reader (or viewer) is left wondering if the world simply ends at the edge of the scene which Clov can see from the windows. In light of this, the appearance of "floating" that is giving by the set construction was particularly appropriate, as it enhanced the idea that the play is taking place, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. The simplicity and bareness of the set left the audience with no distractions, and forced them to focus intently on the uncomfortable scene for the entirety of the play.

The construction of a room with three walls created a physical space which was very constrictive and induced an impressive feeling of claustrophobia. It emphasized the fact that the characters were not able to move very much (in both a figurative and more metaphorical sense). The way the trash bins were sunk below the level of the floor made them even more stationary: where Hamm could be moved around the room by Clov, Nagg and Nell were not afforded even that luxury. This created a hierarchy among the characters. All were trapped in an unpleasant world, but not all were equally doomed to stay there. There was no hope that Nagg or Nell could improve their lives by leaving the room or even the house. Hamm was in a slightly better position, as he could move with the help of Clov; however Clov was in the best position, being able to move more freely than any of the others. In a way this made him the most powerful character in the play. Although Hamm appeared most powerful at first glance, in reality he was powerless to stop Clov from leaving. In fact, I envied Clov for being able to know another location besides this solitary room. He, unlike the audience, was at least able to move to the kitchen for short periods of time. Also, the colors in the room were completely bland and gloomy, which certainly added to the effect. The absence of greens and blues was particularly noticeable, especially when the characters talked about how there was no nature left in the outside world.

The final movement of the set at the end of the play was the one detriment to an otherwise well-designed set. It was a distracting occurrence, and confused the message of the play. In the text, Clov doesn't actually leave; however, in this production the edges of the room move away from Hamm, taking Clov with them. This represents the introduction of a powerful force which alters the meaning of the play, and it's not clear that the fundamental relationship between Clov and Hamm, which is an important aspect of the play, survives this change.

Overall, the set portrayed the desperation of the play by inflicting the physical constraints and discomforts of the location on the audience as well as the characters. The small and confined room appeared in the middle of a completely blank space, which induced both disorientation and claustrophobia. The result was a captivating image from which neither the audience nor the characters could escape.

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