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Purple Reign

Endgame closing at TheatreWorks; Purple opens at POTS.

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"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness." — Nell in Samuel Beckett's Endgame

To take nothing away from some excellent performances, my favorite part of the Endgame experience at TheatreWorks didn't happen until after the show was over and I was alone. Walking out the door, I was confronted by a massive, well-lit mound of earth pushed into the street by construction crews. It was like leaving a Samuel Beckett play and walking into a real, larger-than-life Samuel Beckett set. Of course, the mound had been there when I arrived too, it just hadn't been quite so meaningful (or well lit!). And for reasons that must have seemed completely insane to anybody who might have seen me, I giggled over the grave-like heap and even snapped a picture. Who knew all the construction clutter that makes that portion of Overton Square so inconvenient had a little poetry hiding in it?

Endgame is Beckett's tragicomic meditation on mortality, tyranny, servitude, and the cycles of nature and necessity that bind us together in mutual discomfort. It is the absurdist pioneer's best-known work after Waiting for Godot and takes place in a nondescript ruin with two slit windows accessible only by ladder. Hamm (Ron Gephart), the fading lord of all he surveys, is now blind, confined to a wheelchair, and dependent on his servant Clov for virtually everything. Hamm is the master who can't stand, and Clov (Jeff Lappin)is the factotum who can't sit, and so, like the ridiculous characters in some nursery rhyme, the pair complement one another as they gripe and wait for oblivion.

The cast is rounded out by Nagg (Zach Williams) and Nell (Aubrey Swanson), who are presumably Hamm's parents. They are now confined to a pair of trash cans, from which they occasionally peek out and function as a kind of bottled-up Greek chorus.

In an online interview with the Flyer, prior to the show's opening, Gephart explained that he came to the role of Hamm late, and, with little time to prepare, she kept his performance unadorned and as honest to the character as possible. It was the right decision, and the rest of the cast seems to have followed suit. As a result, this satisfying, no-frills production places an emphasis on Beckett's words and simple actions, stressing the familiar over the strange.

As Clov — the nail to Hamm's hammer — Lappin is especially good at finding the humor in a show that, in the wrong hands, can be too bleak to bear.

This Endgame, directed by New Moon founder Eastern Hale, is as common as a mound of dirt. It should also be essential viewing.

Through June 30th

I can't imagine that The Color Purple director Tony Horne will mind my passing along a concern he shared with me in a conversation prior to the first matinee of his strong show's opening weekend at Playhouse on the Square. After all, it's not like Horne's the first person to notice that the play's creators crammed five relentlessly eventful decades into two-and-a-half hours of musical theater. The rapid-fire storytelling in this adaptation of Alice Walker's acclaimed novel has been perceived as a weakness in the show and was, according to Horne, one of The Color Purple's most unruly aspects. But thanks to the efforts of an especially strong cast and vibrant, narrative-enhancing choreography by Emma Crystal, all of the moving pieces fit together perfectly to tell the story of an abused and neglected African-American woman named Celie who is inspired to reinvent herself by the strong women in her life.

Horne's cast for The Color Purple is an embarrassment of riches, top to bottom. Valerie Houston outdoes herself as Sophie, a woman who speaks her mind and ultimately pays a price for it. Crystin Gilmore is appropriately weary and wily as Shug, the curvy blues singer who turns heads everywhere she goes. And AJ Bernard charms as Harpo, a scrawny tavern keeper with a thing for the brown-legged ladies. But for being an ensemble show, The Color Purple is only as good as its Celie, and Claire D. Kolheim has never been better.

If you've seen other productions of The Color Purple and either found it tedious or thought it all zipped by too quickly, you might give the show a second chance. The Playhouse cast has something you can't buy, borrow, or steal: chemistry. And if the characters are too sketchily drawn, each actor leaves a mighty impression.

Also, I'd suggest making reservations well in advance. This one's likely to sell out, and fast.

Through July 14th

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