"Less is more" has become a cliché, both overused and overrated. Nobel Prize-winner Samuel Beckett was one the few effective practitioners of the concept. Maybe his vision of human fate required a pared-down presentation because he saw life as a meager, difficult struggle. But he didn't lack a sense of humor. In fact, his sense of humor was dark and scintillating at the same time. For example, naming a play's protagonist Krapp.
Four Humors Theatre Company recently revived Beckett's puzzling and disturbing Krapp's Last Tape in the back room of the Flava Restaurant on North Rampart Street. Michael Martin played Krapp, the only character, though Krapp's recorded voice almost becomes a second. As it is supposed to run, Krapp plays back an antiquated reel-to-reel tape and reacts, mostly with disgust. On the night I saw the play, there was a technical hitch and Martin valiantly performed the recorded parts live and attempted to react at the same time. Even with this added complication, Martin evoked Beckett's "wearish" old man and the young swain he once was with aplomb and conviction. Under Ed Bishop's direction, Martin created a haunting and haunted character.
The small back room at Flava could not have been a better setting. A pack rat's treasures surrounded the table where Krapp sat under a hanging light, evoking an intimate space inhabited by a person who lacks intimacy in his life. He has nothing left but his enigmatic tapes and ledgers.
"Slight improvement in bowel condition. . . . hmmm . . . Memorable equinox." (He peers closer at the ledger.) "Equinox, memorable equinox." (He raises his head, stares blankly front, puzzled.) "Memorable equinox?"
Beckett has Krapp attend to essential but pointless action. Dressed in a shabby suit, Krapp is very concerned with time and often checks his pocket watch. He fiddles with keys and unlocks a drawer to find the spool of tape he wants, "box three, spool five," he says, lingering childishly on the voluptuous vowel in "spooool".
Eventually, the plot focuses as Krapp probes his diaries. "Hard to believe I was ever that young whelp. The voice! Jesus! And the aspirations! The resolutions!" He wants to hear his description of a love, or a chance at love, that might have changed his life. There is a lyrical moment with the woman lying prone in a shallow boat while Krapp propels them across a lake. "My face on her breasts. My hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side." But Krapp retreats from this intimacy. "I said I thought it was hopeless. She agreed."
Once an aspiring writer, he is left drunk and alone, contemplating his meager life through the labored but pointless account. He's created less with more. — Dalt Wonk
Krapp's Last Tape
Directed by Ed Bishop
Starring Michael Martin