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The Play-Goer: U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders’ Endgame

Can glimpses of a dark future inspire change — in time?

                    Why has the U.S. Naval Academy’s Masqueraders, its drama club, chosen Endgame, an absurdist play about the futility of existence, as its major production of 2018?

                    Writing in the mid-1950s, existentialist Samuel Beckett set his play in a post-apocalyptic bunker in a world of environmental collapse. He didn’t let his audience know what had happened to the world, but we do. The headlines tell us every day that this is the world we have coming unless we take action now.

                    “The overhanging threats of global war, nuclear fallout and environmental collapse live with us on a day-to-day basis,” explains Lt. Commander — and former Masquerader — Joy Solmonson, who was the production’s researcher. “Beckett forces the audience to examine both the fragility of life and the endurance of the human spirit.”

                     “Our times have many parallels,” adds director Christy Stanlake, “Our take was more about environmental collapse and our seamen on waters sailing past those double-size islands of plastic trash.”

                    The blind, lame Hamm (played by Jon Mendez) is a sort of monarch of this grim world. He wears ragged robes in the rich colors of a king and a hat that resembles a crown of sorts. From his chair, he rails at loss and the futility of everything. He ranges from pathetic, to comic to cruel to his only companions, his servant, Clov, and his parents, Nell and Nagg, who live in the trash cans.

                    Clov (Allen Sand) takes it, but also gives back, calmly telling Hamm over and over that it is not yet time for his painkiller, until it finally is. Only there’s none left. Like everything else that there’s no more of, Hamm takes this news with grim acceptance.

                    As Hamm’s mother, Julia Kalshoven brings a measure of softness to Nell, letting the audience know some of what has been lost as she poignantly remembers happier times when “we once went rowing out on Lake Como … one April afternoon.”

                    As Hamm’s father Nagg, Nicholas Hajek offers a kind of comic relief. When called, he comes out of his can, screaming for his pap and when that is gone, his sugarplum. He is bawdy and demanding, asking his wife for a kiss that she knows cannot be given because of the space between their cans.

                    Academy English professor and club sponsor Stanlake has done a fine job directing this troupe of actors, who play their roles with an acceptance of the grim world that they are forced to inhabit.

                    The bunker, designed by Hunter McGavran, dressed by Lillian Kelly and built by Jesse Devries, adheres to Beckett’s strict design requirements. McGavran also provides the moody lighting inside the bunker, suggesting a sort of always twilight world outside.

                    The set itself is bare minimalist with only two windows, high enough up that they can be reached only by a ladder that Clov must climb on his aching legs. The only other physical additions conceived by Beckett are the door and trashcans where Nell and Nagg live. The set has the addition of landscapes and installations by Anselm Kiefer to suggest a world in environmental collapse.

                    Endgame is not an easy play. There is not a plot to carry the story line to an ending. The concept of it – the pointlessness of human existence — is hard. Everything is finished, but without the forgiveness of ending. Everything here is not only the extremely long lives of the characters, but also the world itself. 

                    But when there is still a chance to prove that life is not futile and there is a chance for redemption, the message of Beckett’s Endgame is more timely than it was first produced. We don’t want Hamm’s world.

                    The Masqueraders have dedicated this production to theater designer Richard Montgomery, who died in April, after lending his brilliance to so many Masqueraders’ productions.

                    In addition to her role as Nell, Julia Kashoven did the costuming. Stage manager was Chris Smith, assisted by Will Smiley. Sound designer was Noah Martinolich. Everyone worked on the construction crew.

 

Running time approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. FSa Nov. 17 & 18, 8pm, USNA’s Mahan Auditorium, Annapolis, $16, rsvp: www.navyperforms.showare.com. Parking outside the Academy; walk in thru walk through Gate 3 (Maryland Ave.) with your picture ID.