Monday, February 16, 2009

Krapp, 39

Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, for those of you less familiar with avant-garde theater, is one of the preeminent plays of the mid-twentieth century. The premise is incredibly simple: Krapp, aged 69, sits down at his desk with a tape recorder to create a new recording in which he will describe the people and events in his life from the previous year; at the same time, he reviews another recording he'd made previously at age 39. It's an unusual monologue in that it's almost not a monologue: the live actor is actually interacting with and responding to his own voice on the tape recorder which makes the younger Krapp seem like another character in the piece.

Michael Laurence tells us at the beginning of Krapp, 39 that today is his 39th birthday. He has been inspired to make his own recording of Krapp's Last Tape today, he says, before a live audience, and he is planning to use this recording in a production of Beckett's play to be presented in 2039, when Laurence will be 69... but first, he'd like to give us a little insight into Michael Laurence. The production features recordings of his dramaturgical conversations about the play with his director, George Demas; live video feed (to a very large and very snazzy plasma TV); recitations from journal entries that Laurence has made on previous birthdays; and his musings as to why he connects so strongly with the play. The central element in the set is, as it is in Beckett's play, a large desk which is littered with objects—some are items that are specific to the original work, others are Laurence's personal times that he references in his monologue; during periodic interruptions in his speech, Laurence takes the video camera and gives the audience a handheld tour of his desktop in extreme close-up.

While I'm familiar with Krapp's Last Tape, it's not a play I've ever actually seen or read (although I would love to see John Hurt in the Beckett on Film version; I'm going to have to start saving my pennies so I can buy the series on DVD). Fortunately, Laurence and Demas have done a very good job of making that kind of specific knowledge unnecessary: I'm sure there are references or jokes that are funnier if you really know the Beckett, but Laurence's script is smart, witty and well-crafted, with enough information to help everyone keep up. As an actor, Laurence is an engaging presence onstage: he is a personable, somewhat erudite and more than a little self-involved actor who may just be on the verge of a self-realization; plus, as Catherine pointed out, he has a head full of unruly but utterly mesmerizing hair. Demas' directing of the piece is also strong—he nicely varies the pace throughout the 90 minute production and the cinematic video pans over the desktop are still firmly rooted in the solipsism of the piece. I'd heard of but never seen Cliplight Theater's work before this but I look forward to seeing what they tackle next.

Photo © Dixie Sheridan

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