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Absurdist ‘Endgame’ suffused with unexpected warmth

In Samuel Beckett’s absurdist world, four characters live together in a dilapidated house in a place where everything appears to have run down. All they have is each other — and their routines, and their stories. In the hands of director Marion McClinton and an expert cast, the current Ten Thousand Things production brings out not only the dark humor on the surface, but the painful core beneath.

Much of the action unfolds between Hamm (Terry Bellamy), a blind man who cannot stand; and Clov (Christiana Clark) who serves Hamm and cannot sit down. Through the play’s 90 minutes, the two bicker over a daily routine that has ossified to the point of ritual. Through it all, Clov continually threatens to leave for an outside where nothing grows or even moves.

Providing some relief are Nagg (Steve Hendrickson) and Nell (Barbra Berlovitz), Hamm’s parents who live in a pair of dumpsters in the house (well, this is Beckett after all). Yet it becomes clear — especially after Nagg tells a near incoherent story about a man trying to get a pair of trousers tailored — that they are part of the routine as well. In fact, it seems possible that Clov’s threats to leave this timeless purgatory are just as much part of a deeply ingrained ritual as well.

All of this could easily spiral into an arch and dry theatrical exercise, but McClinton and the cast bring out unexpected warmth to the show. That many of their performances are at prisons and other non-traditional venues — places where the audiences probably don’t have much taste for pretension — doesn’t hurt. The general public has two more weekends to catch the production, and it’s more than worth the trip downtown to see.

“Endgame.” Through March 15. Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets $25. Reservations: 1-800-838-3006 or online.

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