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BWW Review: KRAPP'S LAST TAPE Recalls Moments Past and Present at Theatre South

Theatregoers who grimace at the very name "Samuel Beckett" and who would avoid an author associated with existentialist or minimalist drama would be doing themselves a disservice by ignoring the current production of KRAPP'S LAST TAPE at Theatre South. If they've ever laughed at the repeated, futile efforts of Laurel and Hardy-- like Sisyphus and his boulder -- trying to roll that piano up a daunting stoop in the Oscar-winning short THE MUSIC BOX or found themselves in another dimension of an episode of Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE, whether or not they realize it, they're just around the corner from Samuel Beckett's intellectually compelling, sad/comic landscape. In fact, KRAPP'S LAST TAPE could well have served as a vehicle for the Serling series (with, of course, a few tweaks by Serling or a Ray Bradbury). The premise of this short piece (it's only about forty minutes) is simple enough: Krapp, on each birthday, has made a reel-to-reel tape recording recalling that year and his reaction to it. Now, on his sixty-ninth birthday, he searches his boxes of tapes for one that he made when he was thirty-nine, and this offers a contrast in not only voices, but attitudes -- the somewhat smug and confident voice of the younger man contrasts with the experience-based, impatient voice of the older man, who keeps stopping and replaying parts of the tape as he realizes opportunities lost, roads not taken (a little Robert Frost allusion, there).

In KRAPP'S LAST TAPE, as well as in OHIO IMPROMPTU (the even shorter playlet that precedes it), it's as if the protagonist steps outside himself to examine himself and what he has become until, at last, he approaches what will be the final tape (or stage) of his life. This revisiting of one's life is not alien to A CHRISTMAS CAROL's "Scrooge," who has, frankly, terrifying glimpses of the appalling directions he has taken in life -- or OUR TOWN's "Emily," watching herself relive her twelfth birthday and unable to take advantage of the moments passing her by. Oddly enough, these characters have something in common.

On paper, KRAPP'S LAST TAPE has minimal dialogue and minimal stage props -- a clumsy old recorder (the voice of the younger man), bananas (providing the sensual moments which once were shared with a beautiful woman), a watch (moments that tick away and opportunities that pass with them); all of this would be bits and pieces of a puzzle unless they were clarified by a "flesh and blood" performance. Anthony Isbell (that fine actor for whom, along with co-director Adam Remsen, this production was a "labor of love") brings considerable skills to "Krapp" (and, yes, that name has defecatory connotations -- and for a reason). It's an actor's showcase, and Mr. Isbell is able to bring his gifts to the fore. I love his disapproving, scornful looks as he listens to the "he thinks he knows it all"-voice of his former self: Watch him, too, peel and eat a banana -- a sensual experience that once might have had its counterpart in the relationship with a desirable woman; laugh, as he slips into silliness pronouncing, repeatedly, the word "spool." His "Krapp" looks back at his life as if he has lived it like J. Alfred Prufrock; yet, there's a bit of a Lear-like fury when he swats those boxes of tapes from the table or shuts down the recorder when it plays something too painful for him to hear. Watching him and listening to his remembrances, we are reminded of roads both taken and not taken in our own lives.

As a kind of appetizer to KRAPP'S LAST TAPE, there's also OHIO IMPROMPTU, where much the same scenario seems to be going on; however, instead of a tape recorder, there's a reader (a fine rendering by Mr. Remsen), dressed identically to a listener, who offers the protagnist's voice . Like the recorder, that voice is stopped, backed up, and restarted and replayed -- all signalled by the listener's rapping on a table.

KRAPP'S LAST TAPE may be a short work, but its impact -- and, particularly, the performance of Mr. Isbell -- will linger much longer in the viewer's mind. Through September 19.


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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)