Thursday, January 22, 2009

Krapp, 39

Photo/Dixie Sheridan

In Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, a 69-year-old man looks back at a life less than lived and throws himself a somewhat bitter birthday party, saying farewell to a life that is no longer his. Michael Laurence's riff on the subject, Krapp, 39, says hello to a life that he wishes to claim. At first, it's the character of Krapp, whose monologue he plans to record on stage and then use thirty years from now. But along the way, prodded by phone conversations with his friends (one assumes these are George Demas, and his off-stage collaborator, Jon Dichter), the play becomes an archival of his own life: as George puts it, the only thing that can be controlled--that is, lived--is the present, and the only thing that an actor can show--with or without a character--is something personal.

To that end, Laurence fills the stage with himself: objects from his past line a "tech" table along the back wall, two video cameras record this moment to represent his future, and an often handheld digital camera records his high-resolution present, the footage visible on a large flatscreen monitor off to stage left. Just like Krapp, none of these objects are passive: Laurence films his historical relics in slow, appreciative pans during the recorded moments, and instead of listening to a younger version of himself, he reads aloud diary entries and letters from the last ten years. Whether these pieces of the actor Laurence are fact or fiction is irrelevant--they feel real, particularly a birthday message from Mama.

Laurence's grant-worthy term for Krapp, 39 is "an autobiographical 'documentary' theater piece," but in truth, it is neither a history nor a premonition, and it is all the stronger for that. Krapp is a sort of shield, in which an actor can visit the deep themes of love and death and, especially, loss. Stripped of that role--"Take the character away from the actor and what does he have?"--and there's a far greater existential dread . . . and, as Beckett so wisely observed, a certain special comedy, too.

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