If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Dennehy Returns to Long Wharf for “Krapp’s Last Tape”
Area theatergoers will recall the 2008 Long Wharf production of “Hughie” when Brian Dennehy dominated the short, two-character drama by Eugene O’Neill. Well, Mr. Dennehy has returned to Long Wharf as the sole star in an even shorter masterwork, “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Becket.
Written in 1958, “Krapp’s Last Tape” initially served as a curtain-raiser for Becket’s “Endgame” and since that time has been a prime choice for actors of a certain age to strut their stuff. Indeed, as Mr. Dennehy trods the boards in New Haven, John Hurt is currently playing the same role at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. You can see the appeal for actors: a short play (about 50 minutes) in which you are the only performer with few lines and limited blocking. Mr. Dennehy should be well familiar with the role having played it off and on for several years particularly at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada.
Semi-autobiographical in nature, the deceptively simple plot of “Krapp’s Last Tape” concerns the title character, a man of 69 years, clearly alone and listening to a recording he made when he was 39. The younger Krapp is full of promise and bonhomie; qualities the current Krapp sadly lacks. Becket explores age, the delusion of memory and lost love as Krapp mocks the smug insolence of his younger self. He attempts to record an update to his tape collection, but grows frustrated. Is this really Krapp’s final tape recording or does the title refer to only the latest tape to which Krapp is listening? True to form, Becket thrives on ambiguity and leaves it for the viewer to decide.
The reliable Mr. Dennehy offers a solid performance as Krapp. The role, more than any other I can recall, really depends on an actor’s listening and reaction skills. The majority of the play is taken up with Krapp listening intently to each and every word recorded by his younger self. To this end, Dennehy does not disappoint. His haunted eyes tell the story and his rages seem authentic. Technically, the actor is right on target but -- as with his Hughie -- I never got the feeling that Dennehy has truly lived this role. The depth of character isn’t completely in evidence -- as though he were only visiting Krapp, keeping him at a safe distance. It’s an admirable performance that still needs to dig deeper. The black and white motif for the play is perfectly captured in Eugene Lee’s simple set and costume design. Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting also achieves just the right mix of light and shadow. Thought not definitive, director Jennifer Tarver has still delivered a worthy rendering of this difficult but universal drama.
“Krapp’s Last Tape” continues at Long Wharf Stage II in New Haven through Sunday, December 18. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at: 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.