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We don't dare breathe while watching this stunner, whether from fear of missing a moment or out of a paralyzing empathy for the characters—although what they're undergoing, metaphorically or in reality, is the stuff of academia. As we enter the theatre, we see Clov already onstage, taut and clenched, gaping at the white-sheeted mounds, which are soon revealed as Hamm, Nagg, and Nell. These archetypes await us, luring us in, mesmerizing us. In a play whose themes include the passage of time, we'll not be aware that our time with these four is slipping so rapidly away.

Director Kristina Lloyd has given Samuel Beckett's presumably futuristic, post-apocalyptic script a surprisingly old-fashioned look. The setting, by Theodore Michael Dolas, hints at former wealth and comfort that are now fractionated: Once-rich curtains, now tattered, line sharply angled walls. Even the flooring—chessboard-patterned, befitting the play's title—is angularly uneven. And although Nagg and Nell emerge from radioactive waste bins, they are dressed charmingly in early 20th century wear (glorious costumes by Jade Winters), in clownish makeup and uplit as if performing in a music hall.

Indeed, the unscripted fifth character here is Dolas' lighting—fiery orange, magenta, violet, colors of a raging sunset or hopeful sunrise—that is mercurial, illuminating, illustrative, life-giving, and paradoxical.

And speaking of paradoxes: Lloyd's patient, deliberate pacing of Beckett's "pauses" somehow remains all-absorbing; her actors fill with roiling emotions that we'll never identify.

Storyline? Meaning? It's Beckett. Let's leave the analysis to the academics. It's people communicating. Although this time through, the script seems to be about theatre. And with sound by Sean Phillips, there's much theatricality to observe—yet how much is deliberate and should it matter? We can hear the Odyssey's adjacent production of Tartuffe bleeding through the walls; are we meant to, as an homage to French theatre?

Zachary Quinto plays Clov—the caretaker/son character, the one who cannot sit—with astounding physical intensity, a straight-legged tiptoeing walk, his flexible spine suggesting mythical animals more than humankind. He's barefoot except for bandages on his feet—again, is it costuming or the strain on the actor's body? When Quinto looks out the window with a spyglass, we see what he sees, what he distractedly describes—an acting exercise perfectly rendered onstage. Nicholas F. Leland plays Hamm—the ruler/father character, the one who cannot stand—from an office chair on wheels, from behind sunglasses, yet we respond to Hamm's every shifting moment of loneliness, frustration, melancholy, gruffness, rudeness. Del Monroe plays an intriguingly wistful Nagg, Cynthia Fancher a sweetly ineffectual Nell.

And how perverse, and pointed, it is to hear every word uttered by these impeccably skilled actors but not comprehend the tale they tell.

"Endgame," presented by Gryphon Entertainment at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W. Los Angeles. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. June 13-July 19. $25. (310) 477-2055.

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