Krapp's Last Tape
On the evening of December 1, at Long Wharf Stage II, I attended the opening press night of Krapp’s Last Tape, starring Brian Dennehy. This odd and enigmatic work, written by Samuel Beckett, the Irish expatriate who lived in Paris most of his life, is about one hour long; actually it was supposed to be 54 minutes long. Jennifer Tarver is directing the actor, here, in his character’s exploration of life, as she did at the Shakespeare Festival Theater in Ontario and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
I do not know how many people had ever seen this play before, but just the announcement of the appearance of Mr. Dennehy, Bridgeport born, and world famous for his incredible award-winning performances in Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, and hundreds of other productions, filled every seat.
Dennehy enters the stage from a large door at back with a light bulb hanging above it. A crushed posture, messy white hair, snowy beard, pronounced eyebrows, wrinkled white long-sleeved shirt, dark-colored trousers, a vest, no tie, and worn sneaker-like shoes complete his look. He makes his way in front of a heavily ponderous wooden table to a desk chair on wheels; atop the table are stacked various shaped containers -- one resembled my mother’s round metal button box. The other side holds a large old-fashioned tape recorder. On the side of the desk facing the audience were two drawers, which Dennehy as Krapp keeps unlocking and locking. He finds a banana, peels it and begins to eat it. Then he crushes the skin under his feet, seeing if it will help him slip; he doesn’t, and then takes a bad fall. From his shirt pocket he keeps grabbing a small piece of note paper and reading it -- while looking at his pocket watch -- and frequently disappears off stage to what we can only imagine is a bathroom. The sounds emanating from there indicate serious health problems.
While Krapp is finding the right tape, extolling the word “Spool,” and worrying about his digestion, the tape begins to play; unfortunately, it broke some minutes into the performance, and the production was halted for a short time. It gave a few people the chance to exit; for those who remained, it was a confounding experience. For we are listening with Krapp to the tape of himself 30 years younger on his 39th birthday. His mother has just died. He is failing as a writer. I love it when he has to look up the word in the dictionary he uses on tape -- “viduity,” widowhood. In all, Dennehy’s face is a marvel of expressions as Krapp realizes that he has accomplished little in all those years. However, the tape, itself, should be clearer; there are lines that are lost in the air. It also would be great to have another Beckett play on the bill.
Beckett is never easy. At Long Wharf II. through December 18.