Russ Hunt's Reviews

Krapp's Last Tape
By Samuel Beckett

Theatre Saint Thomas
April 1998

[from a posting to the HUNTS list]

Well. Just in from a performance of Krapp's Last Tape in the Black Box which was, um, the best thing I've seen in the Box. Or, well, the most perfectly powerful thing I've seen there.

I don't know if everybody knows the play -- it's often anthologized. I've seen it performed a couple or three times, at least, but never as strong as this. Let's see. The set was a desk, set sort of cornerways on, with four or five beercase-sized boxes full of tapes, and behind it a square scrim splashed with subdued blue light from the bottom. To the right of the desk, and behind it, was a cart with a big video monitor, a VCR, and a camera. (I thought, "Oh, no, they're going to make Krapp's tapes video tapes . . . how trendy." I was wrong.) The house lights go down, and as they do, and as the stage lights come back up, you hear the wind.

OK, so what happens (if you don't know) is that Krapp is doing what, apparently, he's been doing for fifty years -- listening to (watching) tapes he's made about listening to tapes, and making new tapes. And eating bananas, and drinking, and talking about how glad he is not to be young any more, and how all the passion he used to feel is gone and, well, all that Becketty stuff. And tripping over his own banana peels. What was amazing about this performance was that this kid, Jef Bate Boerop, whom we've seen and admired in a couple of other things like The Trojan Women, makes himself into a decrepit old bum in an entirely convincing way -- and on the tape plays a mid-forties, grotesquely intense and grandiose younger version of Krapp, and does both of them not only convincingly, but so powerfully that at the end of it I was in tears.

Let's see, how to explain why. The section of tape that he comes back to is an account (you'll remember if you've read the play) of himself as a young man in a boat with a woman, agreeing that their relationship was hopeless and floating in among the reeds. The second time he replays the crucial part of the narrative, he runs the tape back a bit, and, in this production, the old Krapp laboriously edges himself up onto his desk and suddenly you realize he's imagining himself in the boat, using his cane as a paddle. At the end of the play -- after trying to make his own new tape, and stumbling into silence -- he replays the boat tape again. This time he gets up on the desk but can't quite make it into boat position. He's carrying the book he published which sold 17 copies. As the narrative goes on, he curls up into an almost fetal position. You realize that there's some lovely Celtic-sounding lute or guitar music which has sneaked into the scene. The tape runs on past the boat narrative, into the younger Krapp saying "Never known such silence. The earth might be uninhabited," and going on to end the tape by numbering it . . . "Box . . . five, spool . . . three." The tape ends; the screen goes white, and his book falls out of his hand onto the floor. Blackout, leaving just the screen.

It was wonderful. I wish you all could have seen it.

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