Chess in ‘Endgame’

Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey in Endgame. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey in Endgame. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

The game of chess was a major influence on Samuel Beckett’s early writings. Around the time of his 1938 novel Murphy (in which Murphy and the suicidal Mr. Endon play a crazed chess game), chess became one of Beckett’s abiding passions. He frequented Parisian cafes where the best chess players congregated, and he followed his friend Marcel Duchamp’s chess column. He also read Duchamp’s Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled, his contribution to chess literature that deals primarily with the endgame.

Beckett’s Endgame makes several references to the game in the text, including the title of the play itself. The endgame is the third and last division of a chess game. During a game’s opening, strategies are set in motion by the positioning of key pieces; during the middle game, opponents organize their moves, readying for an assault on the king.

During the endgame, explains Beckett biographer Deirdre Bair, “there is either a conversion of the advantage into a win, or else an attempt to nullify the disadvantage incurred in the middle game—also in search of the win. Usually in the endgame, there are no longer enough pieces left on the board to initiate an attack upon the king. This is when both kings are free to come to the center of the board, to confront each other, seemingly uncaring, as they execute the few limited moves still possible.”

Beckett argued, according to Bair, that “once the pieces are set up on the board, any move from then on will only weaken one’s position, that strength lies only in not moving at all. . . . From the very first move, failure and loss were inevitable.”

The chess motif is introduced on page 2 of the play. Hamm says “Me to play.” The line suggests the opening of a chess match, on the analogy of ‘white to play.’ “Hamm is the king in this chess game lost from the start. He knows from the start that he is only making senseless moves. For instance, that he will not get anywhere at all with his gaff. Now at the last he’s making a few more senseless moves, as only a poor player would; a good one would have given up long ago. He’s only trying to postpone the inevitable end. Each of his motions is one of the last useless moves that delay the end. He is a poor player,” Beckett said.

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Inside Studio School

“Number 23: Don’t say “Bless you” when they sneeze, refuse to say it when they insist.”

“24! Insist on learning to play the piano, when they enroll you insist that you want to learn to play guitar instead.”

“And finally, 25: Follow them around, refuse to tell them what you want.”

“And that’s 25 ways to really, really, really annoy your parents!”

With that, Holden Buckley, Tristan Ward, and Dean Paglino, brimming with enthusiasm, declared the end of their scene. The audience (of mostly parents) laughed and applauded.


This was the opening scene of a performance by young actors enrolled in Long Wharf Education’s Studio School program. Students who participated in the class, An Actor’s Showcase, presented scenes and monologues they had been working on for seven weeks in front an audience of friends and family in one of Long Wharf’s rehearsal halls.


The scenes were a combination of previously published work and pieces that the students created themselves. Jake McPhee, Noah Sonenstein, and CJ Linton worked on apiece about fighting the zombie apocalypse and added their own dramatic flair.

“Remember folks, always keep your brains where they belong: IN. YOUR. HEAD.

The first Studio School classes of 2017 have been announced! Click HERE for more information and registration.

studio-school-16-blog-pic-4- Eliza Orleans

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Drama Notes: On Beckett

Left: 1.Samuel Beckett, 1977. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Right: 3.Samuel Beckett by Edmund S. Valtman.

Left: Samuel Beckett, 1977. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Right: Samuel Beckett by Edmund S. Valtman.

Widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) is perhaps best known for creating a radical new dramatic form. Realism was the dominant theatrical style of Beckett’s day, and perhaps remains so today. Beckett’s work opened up the possibility of a theater that dispenses with the traditional conventions of plot, action, and time in an effort to focus on the essence of the human condition. He wrote characters trapped in frustrated lives devoid of meaning, with an acute sense of longing for love, transcendence, escape, and amusement. His work embodies the brevity and meaninglessness of human existence, the finite and degenerative nature of the body, and the inexplicable striving of the human spirit. Despite its austerity, Beckett’s work has become an essential part of the theatrical canon.

Born in Dublin in 1906, Beckett spent most of his adult life in Paris. He worked for a time under the tutelage of the renowned avant-garde writer James Joyce, who had a huge influence on Beckett’s early work. By the late 1930s, Beckett had become a familiar fixture on the literary and artistic scene in Paris, writing mostly fiction, poetry, and essays. It wasn’t until after WWII that he began writing plays. The war had an undeniably profound effect on his work. After being exiled from Paris, Beckett was desperate to join the Nazi resistance. He volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Irish Red Cross, and worked for a makeshift hospital in Saint-Lô, a city near Omaha beach in Normandy. It had been one of the hardest hit cities during the war, with only a few shells of bombed out buildings left standing. The hospital was the site of immense human suffering, plagued by shortages of food and medicine, and infested with rats. By the end of the war, Beckett was left to come to terms with a world that had been forever changed, with humanity itself in ruins.

4.The ruins of Saint-Lô, Normandy on the River Vire, destroyed by Allied bombing. Photo by US Army, July 1944 (US National Archives).

The ruins of Saint-Lô, Normandy on the River Vire, destroyed by Allied bombing. Photo by US Army, July 1944 (US National Archives).

Beckett began work on his first play, Waiting for Godot, in 1948. In the play “where nothing happens twice,” two men wait in a desolate landscape for a figure that never arrives. While it was eventually heralded as an existential masterpiece, the play was initially received with a mix of outrage and excitement. Audiences and critics alike didn’t know what to make of the play’s stripped down, elemental nature, and its lack of a traditional plot. And yet the play captured theatrical imaginations around the world—perhaps because audiences were hungry to find something that expressed the degree to which humanity had tumbled. Beckett biographer Deirdre Bair states: “The war was over, yet nothing important was really settled—the element of waiting must have had a strong, albeit unconscious, appeal.” The absurdity of the human condition was reflected in the play’s form and content, and it soon became a classic. In the nearly 70 years since it was written, the play has been performed on the greatest stages by the greatest actors of our time, including  Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Bill Irwin, Geoffrey Rush, Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, and Steve Martin.

2.The 2009 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot directed by Anthony Page with Nathan Lane as Estragon, John Goodman as Pozzo, and Bill Irwin as Vladimir. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

The 2009 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot directed by Anthony Page with Nathan Lane as Estragon, John Goodman as Pozzo, and Bill Irwin as Vladimir. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Endgame was Beckett’s favorite play and is often heralded by critics as his greatest and most profound. At its center are two men, Hamm and Clov, living in a bare, grey room: Hamm is blind and cannot walk; Clov can see but cannot sit down. In the years before he wrote Endgame in 1955, Beckett witnessed the death of his mother from Parkinson’s disease and of his brother from lung cancer, and spent long periods in Ireland attending at their sick beds. These experiences, along with those of his from WWII, are deeply rooted in the text. Endgame’s initial productions were baffling to audiences and critics alike, who found the play bleak, obtuse, and lacking a plot. Yet over time, critics and audiences have come to revere the piece, finding echoes of Lear, Hamlet, Prospero and Caliban, Noah and the ark, and the dark imaginings of nuclear holocaust. “There are no accidents in Endgame,” Beckett has stated. “Everything is based on analogy and repetition.” Like the chess game alluded to in its title, for every move, there is a counter move. And in spite of his desolate, desperate circumstances, Beckett points out that Hamm says no to nothingness: “The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.”

-Christine Scarfuto

Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. Simon & Schuster, New York: 1990.
Gontarski, S.E. The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Texts. Indiana University Press, Indiana: 1985.
Harmon, Maurice (ed.) No Author Better Served: The Letters of Alan Schneider and Samuel Beckett. Harvard University Press, Boston: 2000.


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Edelstein embarks on ENDGAME


Director Gordon Edelstein talks to the cast and crew of ENDGAME during the show’s first rehearsal

Gordon Edelstein loves Endgame. There is no other way to put it. He talks about the play with profound insight. Always passionate about the theatre, his enthusiasm reaches new heights when he talks about this particular play, one of the most profound works of 20th century theatrical art.

“I have done most of Beckett and this is the play I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” he said at the first rehearsal of the piece. “I promised myself I wouldn’t do until I had the actors who could really do it.”

There is no question he has that now. Gifted performers Brian Dennehy (Hamm) and Reg E. Cathey (Clov) are the duo at the heart of the play, with Joe Grifasi and Lynn Cohen lending able and nuanced support as Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell.

Despite his love for the work, Edelstein is a realist. Even a cursory glance at the critical literature about Beckett will show ambivalence. Audiences and critics were both confounded by his work. But scholars as noteworthy as Harold Bloom saw the depth and complexity of Beckett’s tragic and humorous worldview, and over time Beckett drew passionate admirers across the world. Long Wharf Theatre audiences were taken by Dennehy’s tragically beautiful portrayal of Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape several seasons back. “People are afraid of Beckett. He’s a writer of formidable intellect and some cases formidable impenetrability. But, I just don’t see that,” Edelstein said.

The story is relatively simple. A man and his friend are trapped after a catastrophic event. Their relationship is complicated, to say the least. The play chronicles that relationship. It’s a play about facing death, co-dependency, survival, friendship, parenting – it’s about most things in life, Edelstein explained.

“It is my commitment to share my deep love of this play with the audience. We do that by communicating the play in an accessible, and dare I say, entertaining way,” Edelstein said. “Our job as artists is to remove the tension between the audience and the play.”

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Karen Ziemba has great love for her character ‘Bea’

Edward James Hyland and Karen Ziemba in Other People's Money. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Edward James Hyland and Karen Ziemba in Other People’s Money. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Karen Ziemba saw the original production of Other People’s Money when it first debuted Off-Broadway in 1989. She specifically remembered an up and coming young actress named Mercedes Ruehl as Kate Sullivan, the hot shot young lawyer played at Long Wharf Theatre by Liv Rooth. Makes sense – Ziemba herself was taking the first steps in a career that would lead her to Broadway acclaim.

But it was the performance of character actress Scotty Bloch in the role that Ziemba herself would play almost 30 years later that stayed with her. Ziemba plays the role of Bea, the dutiful office manager who has committed her life to New England Wire and Cable, risking everything to support it and the man she loves.

“I cared so much about (the character). She reminded me of my mother. Bea is strong and does her job well. She has an emotional attachment to the company. Her working for a living and being with these people makes her thrive. I think that is true of most people – we want to have a purpose,” Ziemba said.

When asked what she hopes an audience takes away takes away from the show, Ziemba doesn’t talk about a particular theme or message. She would love it if the characters reminded them of someone they know, a loved one or a friend who has had to make real decisions and sacrifices in their working life. If people come out feeling a little more empathetic, than Ziemba feels that she has done her job.

“(Other People’s Money) is so much like what is going on now. The play mirrors real life,” Ziemba said.

 -Steve Scarpa

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Relishing Antagonism in Other People’s Money

Jordan Lage and Liv Rooth in Other People's Money. Photo by T. Charles

Jordan Lage and Liv Rooth in Other People’s Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

There are few things as fun to play for an actor as a good old-fashioned antagonistic relationship. The verbal jousting, the trickery, the impassioned rhetoric – it’s just a downright good time. Liv Rooth, playing Kate Sullivan, the young lawyer defending her hometown factory in Other People’s Money, really has the opportunity to indulge in this production.

Kate is a woman who is really good at her job by any measure, but has been shunted to doing work she’s not particularly interested in. That probably sounds familiar to many out there. Defending New England Wire and Cable – and taking on a big time Wall Street raider – is an invigorating and welcome change of pace for her.

“She’s a very fierce lawyer with a great sense of herself. She is constantly striving to be the best. And she’s got some teeth,” Rooth said. But what of her now somewhat distanced relationship with the town of her birth and the people in it? “In some ways she’s left behind her relatively unexciting New England background. She’s trying to detach herself from that and move onto the big city,” Rooth explained. However, be reassured this young lawyer won’t let personal issues get in the way of gleefully seizing this opportunity. “She’s really invested in everything she does,” Rooth said.

The dialogue is snappy, Rooth adds, and the needs, wants, and desires are very close to the surface for each character, rendering each one complex and truthful. It makes for exciting and timely theatre. “When I first read it, it felt a little dated, but when we were working on it today it feels, especially in light of the past couple of months, really relevant,” Rooth said.


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Scoundrals, criminals, Mamet and Jordan Lage

Jordan Lage in Other People's Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Jordan Lage in Other People’s Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

When Other People’s Money first debuted in New York in 1989 and became a cult hit, it wasn’t on Jordan Lage’s radar at all. “I was doing the reverse mirror image of this kind of play,” he recalled. He was making his Broadway debut in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, playing a baseball player and understudying a few other roles.

Lage, a founding member of Atlantic Theater Company, went on to become one of the leading interpreters of the works of David Mamet, appearing on Broadway in Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-Plow, as well as attacking Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s roles at theatres all across the country.

Lawrence Garfinkle, the corporate raider at the heart of Other People’s Money, could be a cousin of Mamet’s salesmen, grifters, and con artists. “What they share in common is ruthlessness, but a kind of roguish charm. They definitely embody a male milieu that has recently found itself on the outs in American culture, and rightly so,” Lage said. “Even though they are fictional characters there are grains of truth to them, and I think that is what made them popular. There was a certain peeling back of the curtain, looking a little more in depth at these characters. When audiences were first introduced to them, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.”

The unscrupulous businessman has become an archetype in American pop culture – just think of Gordon Gekko (“Greed is good.”) in the film Wall Street. Lage has a theory about that. Criminals and scoundrels, going back to the Greeks and Shakespeare, have always made for compelling characters. The stories of their rise and fall have an inherent theatricality that people are drawn to.

Garfinkle is no different. The character became a darling of the Wall Street set when the show made its New York debut. The reception to him today could be very different. We know who these men are in a way they didn’t 30 years ago and our patience with them could be slim, Lage said.  “I don’t know what to expect. Hopefully the play’s charms and the strength of the story itself will give an entertaining evening to Long Wharf Theatre audiences,” Lage said.

-Steve Scarpa

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Industry and Workers in ‘Other People’s Money’

Edward James Hyland in Other People's Money. Photo T. Charles Erickson

Edward James Hyland in Other People’s Money. Photo T. Charles Erickson

Jorgensen, the owner of New England Wire and Cable at the heart of Other People’s Money, was a very particular kind of civic leader, said Edward James Hyland, the actor playing the role in Long Wharf Theatre’s production.

Jorgensen felt an obligation to his community to make sure that his workers were well treated, and that the town around his factory prospered. Yes, he would make money – after all that was the point, but he would also make a better life for the people around him. “Without them, you couldn’t have what you get,” Hyland said. The idea of protecting the factory from a corporate raider is the conflict at the heart of the play – and the core of what makes Jorgensen tick.

Rehearsals for Other People’s Money have forced the cast to confront the many different political concerns currently permeating our society. The opposition of Wall Street versus Main Street, what happens to communities when its core industry goes away, and the ethics of business all have been fodder for discussion.

For example, there is a similarity to what happened in the 1980s to what has happened more recently with the coal industry, Hyland said. “People made their lives in this industry and suddenly it disappeared around them and they don’t know what to do. They have a single skill set and retraining and rebooting their lives is essential because there is no other way. There are industries that are being shut down and it is coming down hard on the backs of working people,” he said.

Regardless of the kind of work, economic pressures can be a great leveler. The vast majority of actors generally don’t know when and where their next gig is going to come. It’s a degree of uncertainty that allows Hyland to understand and empathize with the characters in the play. “It didn’t matter what you were doing, if you weren’t working on Broadway, you weren’t making much at all. That hasn’t changed. We live week to week. We get by week to week,” he said.

-Steve Scarpa

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Steve Routman goes back in time in ‘Other People’s Money’

Steve Routman in Other People's Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Steve Routman in Other People’s Money. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Normally when actor Steve Routman settles down to work on a period piece – and Other People’s Money is most assuredly that, being set in the late 1980s – he takes a look at photos of the time period and might read up a little bit on what era he’s going to be working in. In this case, it wasn’t necessary in the slightest.

Routman arrived in New York City in 1985 from his hometown in the Midwest, set on seeing whether or not he could make it in the theatre business. He was far away from the New York City of the Wall Street types depicted in Other People’s Money. Routman plays Coles, president of the firm under siege from corporate raiders in the play.

“It was a very exciting city. It still is. It was dangerous in a way. It had a little edge to it that is different than now. I had very fond personal memories of being a young actor trying to be able to do what I do,” he said.

The differences between then and now are obvious – and quite seismic in their effects. “There was the shift from a non-computer based culture to a computer based culture … Nobody had a cell phone, nobody had a lap top. Pretty much everything was done by mail. Things were a little slower even though it was the late 1980s. It was a good exercise to remember that knowledge wasn’t shared at the rapidity that it is now,” he said.

Routman is enjoying his trip back in time. Just what were his fond personal memories of that time period? “Well, I had hair. That was one of my fondest memories. I actually owned a comb,” he joked.

-Steve Scarpa

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Every 28 Hours: New Haven

Photo by Matt Bradbury

Photo by Matt Bradbury

“Michael Brown! Trayvon Martin! Eric Garner! Sandra Bland! Walter Scott!”

Connecticut native Onyeka Obiocha gasped out these all too familiar names to a charged crowd in Long Wharf Theatre’s Stage II on Friday night. He stood on stage reciting these names while 70 other performers whispered in support of the thousands of black people killed by law enforcement over the course of our history in the United States. There is said to be approximately one every 28 hours of our existence.

The list went on as the rest of the performers fell silent.  As Onyeka breathlessly released his final name, he nearly collapsed. The world was frozen. People Against Police Brutality activist Kerry Ellington’s front-row fist shot right into the air.  One by one everybody on stage raised a fist in the air.  Unplanned, jointly motivated–over 70 fists raised up in an act of solidarity. Then the audience joined in. Then, as simultaneously as the hands thrusted upward, they came back down to a quiet, charged room. The calm and present emcee, Hanifa Washington, took two steps forward.


Addys Castillo and company. Photo by Barbara Fair


We can breathe”

The sound of one loud, deep collective breath. And again. And a third time.

“Together we can breathe”

Then Hanifa asked,“Now what do we do with that breath?”



This was after the 72nd of 72 one-minute plays in The Every 28 Hours Plays-- written by artists nationwide. The plays were performed by local actors, advocates, and activists who gathered for the first time last week. Many of the participants had never set foot in Long Wharf Theatre before this project. Interspersed between the plays, were personal stories of police brutality here in the Greater New Haven area.

The steady silence that followed the collective raising of fists erupted into applause as the audience rushed the stage to embrace the performers. All plans for post-show discussions were delayed by about fifteen minutes. We had underestimated the need to hold one another.

The 230 people in that room had been through over two hours of laughter, pain, empathy and most of all, understanding. These multitudes of stories launched everybody into a remarkable emotional state in a way that only theatre can.

The audience exited through a lobby covered in line drawings done by renowned New Haven muralist, Kwadwo Adae. People were invited to contribute, to participate in the mural. First there were impulsive scribbles by the youngest artists in the house, followed by poems, rallies, expressions of support by anybody who picked up a sharpie. Photo by Elizabeth Nearing

The audience exited through a lobby covered in line drawings done by renowned New Haven muralist, Kwadwo Adae. People were invited to contribute, to participate in the mural. First there were impulsive scribbles by the youngest artists in the house, followed by poems, rallies, expressions of support by anybody who picked up a sharpie. Photo by Elizabeth Nearing

Ever onward, ever forward. James Baldwin wrote that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” That night, we faced this part of our story through these plays, so that together we can create change.

Given the immense response to the project, we are planning to produce an encore in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we know when the next performance is. Sign up for our LWT Community emails for the latest information.



-Elizabeth Nearing, Community Engagement Manager 

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