This is a guest review by David Johnston *
It’s as frustrating as hell. Except that’s a feature, not a bug.
Honestly, I think most Samuel Beckett scripts, if done right, are going to occasionally frustrate the hell out of audiences. The Irish modernist combines absurdism and monotony to create singular dramatic cocktails. Seven Tyrants Theatre has unearthed one of his works for the season opener at their new Tyrant Studios.
We meet Krapp (Linden Banks) in a spotlit room with a desk and a tape recorder. Tonight he will both listen to an audio tape of himself from 30 years prior, and record a new tape. Neither of these will go off without a hitch. Sounds like a good dramatic structure, right? It is.
First, though, we must wade through interminable opening business with bananas and locked drawers. Or sometimes Krapp will leave the stage for 30 or 40 seconds, to make distant clatterings. Call it the theatrical equivalent of needing to eat your vegetables before you get dessert.
And all this nonsense is choreographed to the letter in Beckett’s script. Banks doesn’t emotionally fill all of it, though when the playwright repeatedly hands you the stage direction “puts end of banana in his mouth and remains motionless, staring vacuously before him” and the director opts to faithfully render it, there’s only so much an actor can do.
The absurdity, the stream-of-consciousness, the sparseness: they’re parts of the web being spun. Beckett writes scripts like symphonies, and knows how to use the sounds of words and nuggets of memory to craft emotional masterpieces.
Does any of this dutiful literary praise change the fact that I was bored out of my gourd for good chunks of the show? Nope. But boredom is one note in the symphony. At other times, I was rapt, fearful, amused, and saddened, and the monotony and rituals served to set off the emotions elsewhere—though perhaps boredom is leaned on a little aggressively in this particular score.
Banks gives a lovely, grounded performance that navigates a complicated internal life without telegraphing too much. He absolutely nails the essential skill required for a theatrical outing like this one: listening. Watching his face for microexpressions and tiny reactions is an epic detective challenge for the audience, and a deeply satisfying one at that. A few passages feel somewhat recited, but Banks’s use of silence speaks volumes. And the tactile pausing, fast-forwarding, and rewinding of Krapp’s audio reels creates an earthy, propulsive momentum.
When a production is as minimalistic as Krapp’s Last Tape, tiny design errors (i.e. a white extension cord that practically glows in the dark, white face paint that doesn’t cover the scalp) stick out like sore thumbs. Director/costume-lighting-props-set designer David Thomas Newham might have benefited from another pair of eyes to spot the details he missed.
Krapp’s Last Tape is worth seeing. Just keep your expectations tuned to the fact that there are a lot of vegetables to chew through.
KRAPP’S LAST TAPE Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by David Thomas Newham. Presented by Seven Tyrants Theatre. At Tyrant Studios on Friday, October 5. Continues until October 26.
* David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He is a recent graduate of Studio 58 and always appreciates the opportunity to bloviate thoughtfully about theatre and art. David is not above including a shameless plug in his bio for the upcoming season of Duggan Hill, a horror-storytelling podcast he occasionally guests on.
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