The play revolves around a blind and paralyzed Hamm (Charles Hallahan), whose mind constantly questions his existence.
Hamm is tirelessly attended to by Clov (Gregory Itzin), whose legs cannot bend. A few arm-lengths away, Hamm’s legless parents, Nagg (Mitchell Ryan) and Nell (Audra Lindley), live in a dumpster.
Hamm does the same things every day: converse, have Clov wheel him around the room, and have Clov relate what’s out the windows. Repetition is existence.
This day, however, is different because something has happened. “Something is taking its course.” They are living out their last days.
One can, in fact, infer that these people may be the remnants of a post-nuclear disaster.
The cast has an impeccable sense of timing, often of the comic variety, which makes the work accessible to an audience. For instance, when Hamm asks if a three-legged stuffed dog is gazing at him — as if that matters — Clov moves the dog’s head to make it so. Perfect.
As Hamm, Hallahan rules the roost in a gray beard and disintegrating red silk robe. His need to be in the exact center is hilarious — and ironic considering how the characters’ lives have no center.
Itzin’s Clov makes a good foil. His sense of aggressiveness gives one a vague hope of deliverance — that not all is decay, but that nature, somehow, will triumph.
Ryan and Lindley show the parents as accepting of their condition nand perhaps closer to its inevitability than Hamm. “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” Nell says.
Director Andrew Robinson triumphs as he sticks close to Beckett’s extensive stage directions and in the end gives meaning to the definition of “absurd”: the quality or condition of living in a meaningless and irrational world.
As with previous Matrix shows, the play has been double cast. Robin Gammell (Hamm), Cotter Smith (Clov), Allan Arbus (Nagg) and Claudette Sutherland (Nell) also play the roles. Different combinations will make for different casts.
Also top-notch is Mathew C. Jacobs’ set design, whose cinder blocks and mottled beige coloring look as if they’re stolen from an alley. The lighting by Doc Ballard and the costume and makeup design by Cara Varnell appropriately reinforce the grimness.