By Sam Wyder
Okay, so I heard some people in the audience grumbling about how Endgame
wasn’t what they expected. To that I have to say, “This is Beckett. What did you
expect?” Not only is this Beckett, this is Beckett at his Beckett-iest (except arguably for Waiting for Godot, but we’ll talk about that later). Below are the various comments I either heard or read online (please note I also heard many nice things, but nice thing are not fun to provide rebuttals for).
1) “It didn’t make any sense.”
What did you expect?
a) It’s Beckett.
b) He was French.
Furthermore Beckett was inspired by (among other people) James Joyce. Let me say that one more time, James Joyce. James Joyce is also known as the person who wrote Finnegean’s Wake, a.k.a. the only ticket you need if you want to board the one-way train to crazy-town. Finnegean’s Wake is so inscrutable that decades later people still can’t agree on what the plot is. So if “inscrutable” is another word for “terrible” in your book, then just remember that Endgame could have been a whole lot worse.
Why this complaint is actually a good thing: The play isn’t supposed to make immediate sense. The ambiguity leaves room for everyone to come away with their own impression. If the impression you came away with was simply a general sense of confusion, I have trouble believing Beckett would be too terribly displeased with that. Confusion is uncomfortable, it’s a feeling we generally try to avoid as human beings, but sometimes in trying to alleviate that confusion, we can find something new. Of course we could also find that life is meaningless, and confusion is inevitable. Either way, you learned something new from your night at the theater.
2) “Why were they in trashcans?”
Because Beckett said so. Really this loops back to #1 read it again. Also, Nag and Nell may have inspired Oscar the Grouch. You’re welcome.
Why this complaint is actually a good thing: Have you seen Sesame Street?
3) “Did Hamm really have to be so mean?”
Did Darth Vader?
How about Gollum?
Characters don’t have to be nice. In fact almost all stories have an antagonist.
And while Hamm can be grating, maybe we can give the blind post-apocalyptic man a
Why this complaint is actually a good thing: Indifference is truly the worst response you can have to a character. Say what you will about him, at least Hamm made you feel something.
4) “Nothing happened!”
Not true! They go to the window, several times. Clov moves around an awful
lot. Also, someone even dies! When a character dies, you must admit, at least a little bit
of something happened.
Why this complaint is actually a good thing: This actually reminds me of a great quote about Waiting for Godot. The plot was described as, “Nothing happens. Twice!”
It’s true, there’s not a lot of flashy action here. I wouldn’t settle down with Endgame and some ice cream at the end of a long day. However, things do happen. By stripping away all of the events that usually take up our focus in a play, Beckett forces us to really listen to what he’s saying. It’s like when your mom made you look at her when she was talking to you.
5) “I feel like there’s something I missed.”
It’s okay. You didn’t. I submit the following as evidence that there’s nothing to miss.
a) It’s Beckett.
b) He was French.
You may have notice that I already used those arguments. However I think you’ll find that you can get pretty far into any discussion about Beckett’s works simply by repeating the above facts and shrugging your shoulders.
Why this complaint is actually a good thing: It may seem to some of you like half of the play was missing. That might make you feel like you’ve missed something. You haven’t, because the other half of the play is in you. (Please ignore how much I sound like every 90s sci-fi movie ever. “The power was in you all along!”) Really though, I think Beckett leaves so much ambiguous because we’re supposed to fill in the gaps with
our own jumble of questions and answers. This is the closest the a dialog with a famous writer that a lot of us will ever get. The beauty of Endgame is that you can throw whatever you like at it and see what sticks. It’s like a choose your own adventure book.
Think Clov leaves? Great! You’re right. Think Clov stays? Wonderful! You’re right too. Think Clov plans on staying but gets beamed up by elephantine aliens? Okay, that’s probably not what Beckett was going for. But he’s not here, so points for creativity!
The bottom line is, don’t be scared of Endgame. Yeah, it’s weird. Yeah, it’s easy to feel like you were too uncultured or unintelligent to “get it.” And yeah, it’s no Die Hard. But there’s some beautiful words that Beckett has put together. And he’s asking us the big questions. He’s treating us like adults and he’s not going to let us get off with “I dunno.” We are going to sit here in the dark with him, and he’s going to poke us with a stick made of words until we start thinking, really thinking. Now eat your vegetables and
think about Beckett’s existentialist questions! It’s good for you.