Krapp's Last Tape
At Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II through December 18th, the play (semi-autobiographical and semi-fictional) begins in silence. Dennehy takes the stage, turns on the one light above him and seeks a banana, then eventually another. His poor vision causing him to bring his face close to whatever he seeks to either find or read, Krapp has a time of it trying to locate and then liberate the bananas. For ten or fifteen minutes, Dennehy mimes; and this is transfixing. Besides, it is quite funny.
On the evening the play opened for press, a "computer error" in the booth which overlooks the theater caused a performance delay. What a treat: a play within the play! Dennehy handled this with wry wit and the composure one would expect of a Tony Award winner who is at home in the theater. In order, he spoke with the audience, left the stage, and returned a few minutes later.
The malfunction remedied, the production resumed when Krapp, fiddling with an old reel-to-reel tape recorder, locates the fifth tape in box three. A variety of tins holding tapes rests upon the wooden table next to Krapp. At one point, he knocks all of the containers to the floor. He does, however, manage to play the recording which was made three decades earlier when Krapp was 39. The voice on the tape is smoother and more fluent than Krapp's current one. Now nearly 70, this slumping, ruffled, bitter yet sometimes comic Krapp reacts to his younger self and selves and is irritated that he was "bad." The contemporary Krapp gets stuck on, for example, the word "viduity." He leaves for a moment and finds a large dictionary which he smacks down upon the wooden table, then discovers that it means being a widow or widower. He keeps saying the word "spool." He returns, more than once, to an attractive woman who was in a punt (or boat). The sexual sequence is punctuated when Krapp says, "Let me in." Remember, now, that the monologue begins with this crusty, irritated, man (with white hair, brows, and beard) shuffling about with a portion of a banana clenched between his teeth.
If Krapp has mixed feelings about the man he was 30 or 40 years earlier, he leaves no doubt that he despises the current version. Krapp's Last Tape is about life cycle, the span of one's existence, and, literally, the spool or tape which the protagonist is still able to play, and listen to his recorded words.
Dennehy never rushes. He does pick it up just a bit as he or director Jennifer Tarver dictate and the theatergoer must pay even closer regard. From the moment he appears, the actor (who brought this piece a few years ago to the Shakespeare Festival Theater in Ontario and then Chicago's Goodman Theatre), commands complete attention. The performer fuses Beckett, Krapp, and Dennehy into that man on stage.
Set Designer Eugene Lee and Lighting Designer Stephen Strawbridge provide a stark and spare space with one light above the table and another in the hallway from which Krapp enters. Beckett's play is not depressing. Rather, it is pensive, active and, during the early going, comic. It is difficult to leave the theater without contemplating Krapp's life and times and, perhaps, one's own.
Krapp's Last Tape continues at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II in New Haven through December 18th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.
- Fred Sokol