BWW Reviews: Beckett, Bananas, and Barkhimer Make REEL TO REEL Go Round
Reel to Reel: a double bill of Krapp's Last Tape & The Archives
Krapp's Last Tape Written by Samuel Beckett, Directed by Marc S. Miller; The Archives Written by Skylar Fox, Directed by Tasia A. Jones; Scenic Designer, Rick Dorff; Lighting Designer, Ian W. King; Costume Designer, Susan Paino; Prop Designer, Forrest Walter; Makeup Designer, Erin Anderson; Stage Manager, Molly Burman; Producer, Marc S. Miller
Performances through April 12 by Fort Point Theatre Channel at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 800-838-3006 or www.fortpointtc.org
Steven Barkhimer does not utter a word until about ten minutes into Krapp's Last Tape, but by that time, he has already reeled us into Samuel Beckett's world of man and tape recorder by his pantomime skills and a series of grunts and groans. We hear him before we see him shuffle onto the stage, appearing as if he has just woken up from a long nap or stupor, with uncombed hair, growth of stubble, and baggy, wrinkled clothes. He repeatedly fumbles with a giant ring of keys that he withdraws from his Captain Kangaroo-like vest pocket. Each and every movement is an effort when he bends over to unlock a file cabinet, but his exertion is rewarded when he extracts a ripe banana, lovingly peels it, and consumes it orgasmically.
On his 69th birthday, Krapp looks back on his life by listening to tapes of his younger self (on his 39th birthday) pontificating about writing, happiness, and a woman. It is Barkhimer's voice on the recordings, sounding energized and articulate, if bloviated, in stark contrast to the older Krapp's brief outbursts of few words. His reaction to his younger self includes eye-rolling, impatience, and laughter, but you can see in his distant gaze that he also connects strongly with the memories of what was or what might have been. Written in 1958, the monologue is considered to be autobiographical, but it also has application to everyman with its references to work, drinking, and love, and Barkhimer embodies the everyman character.
Fort Point Channel Theatre is producing Krapp's Last Tape at the Factory Theatre as the opener of a double bill entitled Reel to Reel. They engaged in a national search for a "woman-centric" one-act play to balance the program and selected The Archives by local playwright Skylar Fox, artistic director of Boston-based Circuit Theatre Company. The conceit involves an encounter with Krapp's recordings many years later when a young woman seeks assistance from a librarian to digitize a box of tapes she receives from her estranged mother. Anna (Allison Smith) is a college student whose relationship with Mom (Karin Trachtenberg) is conducted long-distance as Mom is in some form of recovery. Hoping to connect in any way possible, Mom sends the tapes to Anna and asks for help because she feels responsible for whatever they might reveal about someone's life.
Anna is ambivalent about her mother and the project, but Librarian (Sally Nutt) is warm and helpful, taking an interest that seems to go beyond her duties as the archivist. In the process of uploading the tapes to her computer, Anna begins to record her thoughts about her own life, to pass on to her future self from the perspective of her 21-year old self. Fox is insightful in creating three strong female characters and they are fully realized in the performances of Smith, Trachtenberg, and Nutt. To his credit, without telegraphing it too far in advance, Fox sneaks in a neat twist of fate that solidifies the link between the two plays.
Krapp's Last Tape is directed by Marc S. Miller, while Tasia A. Jones directs The Archives. Scenic Designer Rick Dorff uses tall bookcases filled with brown paper-wrapped volumes to suggest the feeling of library stacks. A metal table stacked with file boxes sits under a single hanging light, and Lighting Designer Ian W. King alternately infuses the stacks with stark white or moody blue and magenta colors. Susan Paino is the costume designer who gives Krapp his rumpled look, drapes Nutt with a scarf and conservative skirt and sweater outfit to evoke the librarian image (augmented by pencils stuck in her hair), and provides Anna with typical college kid sweater and jeans. Sound design is spot on with all of the stopping and starting of the tape recorder and musical cues.
Reel to Reel is an engaging double bill with four quality performances. Although Beckett's play is challenging, Barkhimer humanizes Krapp and connects us to his story. Despite being written more than five decades later and set in the present day, Fox's play fits hand-in-glove with its timeless themes of memory, regret, and preservation. You just might recognize your own story.
Photo credit: Marc S. Miller, Fort Point Theatre Channel (Steven Barkhimer)