Theater review: `Krapp’s Last Tape’

Jun 05

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Paul Gerrior is Krapp, a 69-year-old writer spending his birthday with the spirits of his younger selves via an old reel-to-reel tape recorder in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, a Cutting Ball Theater production at the EXIT on Taylor. Photos by Margaret Whitaker

Get a load of `Krapp,’ another sad Beckett clown
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Exactly 40 years ago, Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for a body of work that, even though it has been parsed and produced to a fare thee well for more than five decades, remains elusive, mysterious and vast. There’s space and darkness and humor aplenty in the world of Beckett, and all those qualities are the exact opposite of our fast, narrow, digital world.

It’s hard to imagine Krapp, the hero of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, celebrating his 69th birthday by plugging into an iPod or sliding a gleaming CD into a player as a means of listening to the voice of his 39-year-old self. No, there’s something entirely appropriate about the old man punching buttons and slinging ribbons of tape on a clunky old reel-to-reel tape recorder in order to conjure (and deride) the voice of his youth.

Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Krapp, now at the EXIT on Taylor, is, thankfully, a glimpse of time out of time. It could be 1958 (the play’s year of birth) or it could be in the back closet of now. Whatever time period allows for reel-to-reel, electricity, bananas and offstage hooch, that’s the time we’re in.

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Director Rob Melrose (who also designed the set – a table, a chair, some drawers and some boxes – and the lights) creates an inviting contrast between the stark light where Krapp sits and the thick blackness that surrounds him.

Paul Gerrior is a pitch-perfect Krapp. For much of the play’s brief but rich 45 minutes, Gerrior is a reactor. He’s listening to a recording made by his 39-year-old self (the voice on the tape, full of youthful pseudo-wisdom, belongs to David Sinaiko), who comments on listening to a previous tape made in his late 20s. It’s the three ages of the man all at once, and the expressive Gerrior gives us plenty to experience, even when he’s just listening.

The play begins with a little slapstick as Krapp rummages through drawers and finds a banana. He blithely tosses the peel on the floor then begins pacing. If you know anything about comedy, a banana peel on the floor means only one…oops, he just slipped on it. Ba dum bum.

When Krapp finally settles into the listening (the spot-on sound design is by Cliff Caruthers), the mood turns pretty bleak, especially when, after sufficient listening, Krapp attempts to record this year’s tape. Bitterness, rage and regret seep through his gruff crankiness, leaving us with an incredible vantage point into the aging process of a vibrant, creative mind. Krapp’s younger self has great expectations and won’t be derailed, “Not with the fire in me now,” he says.

But the older Krapp is more extinguished. There’s still a flame of sorts, but he says he’s “drowned in dreams and burning to be gone.” Such sentiment, which reverberates in the silence of a recording with no recorded sound, stir emotions that make Krapp’s Last Tape last far longer than its brief running time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Cutting Ball Theater’s Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett continues through June 21 at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$30. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.cuttingball.com for information.

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