You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Krapp’s Last Tape

If there's a bleak truth to be unearthed about the human condition, you can be sure Samuel Beckett peerlessly expressed it.

Krapp - John Hurt

If there’s a bleak truth to be unearthed about the human condition, you can be sure Samuel Beckett peerlessly expressed it. His 1958 tiny masterpiece “Krapp’s Last Tape” is about the impermanence of memory — about how our recollections desert us just when they’re most needed to soften the blow of reviewing life’s disappointments. The emphasis on humor in Michael Colgan’s visiting Gate Theater Dublin production, executed by the brilliantly talented John Hurt, makes it easier to swallow Beckett’s bitter pill.

Some productions have brought meticulous detail to the digs of the elderly, fussy academic Krapp, but Colgan opts for black-and-white minimalism: just a desk with two drawers facing us, plus a chair and stark overhead light. It’s a perfect police interrogation setting where Krapp is both cop and accused, grilling himself by listening to, and commenting on, reel-to-reel tapes he made, with remarkable foresight, over the course of his 69 years.

Popular on Variety

He’s also working from a ledger or journal of sorts, in which a pair of cryptic notations set the play’s light-to-dark tone early on. “Memorable equinox,” he reads aloud from 30 years ago, and we laugh as Hurt conveys an utter inability to recall what was so memorable. But at the very next entry, “Farewell to love,” his face falls and we come to a dead stop. Clearly this memory lane won’t be a smoothly paved freeway.

For the first third of the hourlong event, Hurt executes a delirious, droll pantomime, silent except for a pair of absurdly squeaking shoes (perhaps an homage to Beckett’s fellow comic crank Jacques Tati). Included are some pranks with bananas and their peels, but the routine itself is the banana peel because it keeps us from seeing what we’re about to slip on.

The tape made back in Krapp’s 39th year recounts multiple failures as a son, writer, lover and citizen, but everything is frustratingly fragmentary. Things he averred were “never to be forgotten” are a blur, while things he should’ve or could’ve done mount up. With Hurt made to appear a dead ringer for Beckett — wildly thatched white hair, deep set eyes and infinitely cracked visage — the autobiographical elements enhance our empathy as this man painfully encounters his faded, imperfect past.

Frustration dangerously mounts as the old words fall short of bringing Krapp whatever he expects in the way of closure, clarity or comfort. Efforts to record a new memoir in the here-and-now dribble away.

It all comes to a head in a bygone erotic encounter in a drifting boat, where he recalls muttering “Let me in,” surely the most achingly beautiful triple entendre in the English language. At once it evokes his desire to fall into the woman’s eyes, possess her sexually and make full, genuine contact with another human being, at least once in a lifetime.

Having put us through the wringer, Hurt/Beckett leaves us hanging. Do we take him at his word that with “the fire in me now” he wouldn’t want the old times back? Or does the spool silently running out signal his impending demise? As with any dramatic poem of genius, “Krapp’s Last Tape” becomes the spectator’s own Rorschach test, challenging us to see our own lives reflected in it and decide where we’ll go from here.

Krapp's Last Tape

Kirk Douglas Theater, Culver City; 317 seats; $60 top

Production: A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in one act by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Michael Colgan. Lighting, James McConnell. Opened, reviewed Oct. 10, 2012. Runs through Nov. 4. Running time: 55 MIN.

Cast: Krapp - John Hurt

More Legit

  • Jagged Little Pill review

    Broadway Review: 'Jagged Little Pill'

    Nearly 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” hit the shelves of record stores, Alanis Morissette’s innovative 1995 album has arrived on Broadway under the muscular direction of Diane Paulus, who launched this galvanic production at the American Repertory Theater. The show’s supportive book by screenwriter Diablo Cody interprets Morissette’s musical idiom as a universal domestic [...]

  • Claire Warden

    Listen: Let's Talk About Sex Onstage

    The craft of intimacy direction is taking Broadway by storm — and on the latest episode of Variety’s Stagecraft, Broadway’s first intimacy director explains why, and breaks down the ways in which she’s helping to revolutionize how actors get intimate onstage. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Warden, whose credits this season include “Jagged Little [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    Mark Addy, Dan Stevens Head Broadway Cast of 'Hangmen'

    Mark Addy and Dan Stevens will appear in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen.” Addy, best known for his work on “Game of Thrones” and “The Full Monty,” starred in the off-Broadway production of the black comedy. It’s the first time Stevens, beloved for his turn on “Downton Abbey,” has appeared on the Great [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen Jordan Fisher

    Jordan Fisher Joins 'Dear Evan Hansen' in Title Role on Broadway

    Jordan Fisher will be Broadway’s next Evan Hansen, joining the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” in the musical’s title role. Fisher, best known to theater enthusiasts for his stint in “Hamilton” and playing Mark Cohen in Fox’s “Rent: Live,” will play the role for a limited 16-week engagement starting Jan. 28. “Evan Hansen is a [...]

  • SUBJECTS] seen at the Lincoln Center

    Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall Set for Major Renovation

    Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall is set to undergo a major renovation that will lead to the facility being closed for months-long stretches starting in 2022. Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic announced Monday that the overhaul will require the temporary shuttering of Geffen Hall from May 2022 through October 2022 and again from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content