Looking for meaning (and a punch line) in an absurd world: Catastrophic Theatre’s Endgame

Catastrophic Theatre’s “Endgame”by Samuel Beckett has been a near sell out. Yes, there are people on waiting lists to see this show. How awesome is this?

Unless you’re Samuel Beckett and the world is meaningless and so is fame, fortune, and notoriety.

But I am not Samuel Beckett and so I am happy for Catastrophic Theatre and Jason Nodler, the show’s director. In general, Catastrophic Theatre has been kicking ass and taking names. Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood (with music by former Frank Black ala The Pixies) was a huge success and their new work “American Falls” by Miki Johnson (also in Endgame) opens in May. Can’t wait.

I will admit that I was nervous to see Beckett whose reputation as an obtuse academic playwright focused on confusion and nihilism is intimidating, at best.  Would I “get” it or would I feel like an idiot walking out of the theatre while eavesdropping on people discussing the rich text and incredible dramatic subtlety?

The truth is that the show was fantastic. The art direction was other worldly – set design, costume, make-up . Every visual associated with the show was in perfect concert with the actors whose insistence on incorporating sincerity and a sense of humor created an ideal context for academia to meet entertainment.

No, there was not a blank, black stage as I had prepared myself for.

Moreover, the four actors, Joel Orr, Troy Schulze, Mikelle Johnson, and Greg Dean, brought tremendous color and specificity to each of the characters which might have been lost as bleak and random if pulled directly from the play itself. Greg Dean’s Hamm – wild, violent, and wickedly dramatic – was a perfect counter to Troy Schulze’s obedient, comedic, forlorn Clov (who I now have an official crush on.)

But this brings me to the question of meaning. I had the opportunity to speak with the director, Jason Nodler, after the show. I pestered him with a few questions that folks might ask about the show and gave my own interpretation of his answer below. (I hope he doesn’t mind!)

What should people expect of the show (or shows that are “non-traditional”)?  Don’t create expectations. Allow yourself to be in the moment and observe your reaction. No need for research or Cliff Notes. (They won’t help anyway). Relax and enjoy the show.

What does the show mean?  The show has no transcendental meaning. It exists as a collection of words between characters caught in a set of specific conditions. In the same way that you do not know the intention or narrative of the people around you everyday, there is no way for you to truly know that about the characters. Relax and enjoy the show.

But, is the show funny, sad, so-funny-it’s-sad, or so-sad-it’s-funny? Should I be laughing? That’s up to you. You’ll figure that out during the show. PS – Relax and enjoy the show.

These instructions might sound easy, but it is incredibly difficult to suspend judgement and narration while watching a play. It just is. You’re listening to words. Shouldn’t they fit together to tell a story with some sort of underlying theme? Come on, we walk around everyday trying to find meaning around us — what exactly does this email mean? why did he not call me back? I am supposed to let this go of this basic function?

Yes.  For this 90 minute play, the answer is yes. It is a terrible arrogance, this idea that we can figure out everything placed before us. That every word or action that comes in our general direction can be discerned and categorized. More importantly, the idea that, with absolute certainty, we can interpret the world around us denies us the opportunity for the world to be more interesting than we are ourselves.  So for those 90-minutes let Catastrophic Theatre let you be yourself. Let them surprise you.

Please, relax. Enjoy the show.

Endgame is at DiverseWorks until Saturday night but it looks like tickets are sold out. Don’t worry, though! You can call the theatre and get on the wait list. You should do it!!!

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