"Krapp’s Last Tape"

-- Long Wharf Theatre Stage II

--Irene Backalenick

Brian Dennehy hobbles on stage, looking all of 105 years old, the very essence of a decrepit, yet feisty, old man. It is the actor offering Samuel Beckett’s one-man tour de force, “Krapp’s Last Tape,” on stage at Long Wharf II.

Or rather a would-be tour de force. Certainly the topic has offered both writer and actor that possibility. This one-acter takes on a universal theme --disintegration and death -- the tragedy which ultimately faces us all. And in juggling deteriorating old age with memories of a vibrant past, Beckett’s play has the potential to be particularly poignant.

 

But, alas, the production proves to be disappointing -- though certainly the Beckett device is clever. Beckett sets up a tandem operation between the old man and his tape recorder. Thus the comparisons between past and present are sharply drawn. Krapp (Dennehy) indulges in a kind of tango with his tape recorder. He listens to his own commentaries and recollections of a beloved woman, as he grapples with his present limitations.

 

It is a strange piece which calls upon a mostly non-verbal performance from the actor. For the first fifteen minutes, not a line is spoken, as Dennehy fiddles with the tape recorder. There are grunts, expostulations, as Dennehy heaves himself out of the chair, periodically disappearing offstage (perhaps to the bathroom). The tape recorder offers up Dennehy’s own on-tape performance, which interacts with the actor throughout the show.

 

How well does this device work? Is it moving, as meant to be? Certainly the theme is relevant and disturbing, particularly so for older audiences. But, alas, at least this particular production (under Jennifer Tarver’s direction) proves to be dull. On the particular night we attended, the tape recorder broke down, and all action had to be briefly suspended while repairs were made. Dennehy took up once again, but all momentum (if indeed there was momentum) was lost. But it is dubious that even a straight run-through performance would have saved the day.

 

 Granted that Dennehy offers a strong and believable performance, but “Krapp’s Last Tape” proved to be a tedious piece---hardly in the league with other memorable, ground-breaking Beckett plays like “Waiting for Godot” and “Happy Days.”

 

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

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