Thursday, December 01, 2011
Brian Dennehy in Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape" at Long Wharf Theatre. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Dennehy comes through in Beckett’s black comedy “Krapp’s Last Tape” at Long Wharf
by Kory Loucks
NEW HAVEN — There’s no way of knowing for sure, but in a perverse way I think Samuel Beckett would have reveled in the failure and success of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” performed by the fabulous and mighty Brian Dennehy, at Long Wharf Theatre.
Beckett himself said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
On opening night the computerized tape system, and evidently the operator of the system, didn’t line up the taped dialog with the spoken lines. Dennehy left the stage after an excruciating few minutes where he was left to twist in the wind waiting for someone to fix the problem.
It was eventually repaired, with a brief glitch later on, but the damage was done. It was intense and fascinating and horrible. I spent most of the rest of the performance psychically holding my breath waiting for it to possibly fail again. Dennehy was not pleased.
Invited back again, I saw the play Sunday. The tape system worked without a hitch and the performance was compelling and spellbinding, with Dennehy admittedly a bit old to be playing the 69-year-old Krapp. It was perhaps unnecessary to give him such exaggerated bushy eyebrows.
The story is an autobiographical account of what Beckett’s life might have been like if he had never been a success, and having sacrificed the love of his life for an ultimately failed career. It’s also an account of the epiphany Beckett had right after his mother died of what the rest of his writing career would be like.
The play was written in English in 1958 when Beckett was actually at the height of his career, and is in part a lament on regret, artistic sacrifice, and what might have been, if life hadn’t turned out as it did for him.
Krapp listens to a tape he recorded when he was 39 years old about the love of his life wearing a green shabby coat, who he abandoned when he was even younger to focus on his art and move to Paris. It’s a conversation the older Krapp has with his younger self and his palpable sense of loss and his anger and frustration at the arrogant person he once was.
It’s also quintessential Beckett, the Irish avant-garde and absurdist playwright who turned the theater world upside down with his existential, minimalist plays that were like nothing that came before them. It is filled with anger, but also black comedy, and even a bit of slapstick with a banana peel.
The youthful Krapp is Dennehy’s recorded voice, and he sounds young and enthusiastic enough, but for some reason he has almost no Irish accent, while he does as the old man, which seems incongruent.
The set by Eugene Lee is a stark, barren room with a desk with drawers in the front and a light high above. There is also a door leading to another room behind, also with a single hanging light. Lee also designed the simple costume that Dennehy wears, with a fine white shirt and tattered vest.
After most shows Dennehy speaks about the play, Beckett, and anything the audience asks, in a generous, educational, spontaneous session. He’s vibrant and vital and a force to be reckoned with in Beckett’s dark comedy “Krapp’s Last Tape,” playing through Dec. 18.
3 ½ Stars
KRAPP’S LAST TAPE
Theater: Long Wharf Theatre
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Jennifer Tarver. Set and costume design by Eugene Lee. Lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge. Sound design by Richard Woodbury. Stage Manager Katrina Lynn Olson.
Running time: One hour with no intermission.
Show Times: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. through Dec. 18.
Tickets: $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at www.longwharf.org
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Brian Dennehy ... Krapp