08 June 2010

Re Krapp

Cutting Ball Theater is closing out its season with a revival of last year’s production of Krapp’s Last Tape, again starring Paul Gerrior as Krapp, with David Sinaiko on tape as the Voice of Krapp (a once up-to-the-moment technology that now looks, in further illustration of the play’s themes, so antiquated). Once again Rob Melrose directs (incidentally, Cutting Ball hasn’t formally announced next season’s schedule yet, but Rob gave me a quick preview, and they have some great stuff coming up; go to their website and join their mailing list).

I was at the first performance of the run, last Friday; the show plays until July 3. Go see it if you’re at all inclined to. One reason I went again is because this is my least favorite Beckett play, and I’ve never really connected to it, but I was piqued enough to give it another try. I still don’t quite connect with it, but I saw some aspects I hadn’t really seen before, and it’s difficult to imagine I could see a better production.

I re-read what I posted about it last year, and was amused to discover that reading myself a year later replicated in milder form the action of the play, in which we watch Krapp listen to himself thirty years before, his search for the remembered troubled by forgotten moments, jettisoned sentiments, and even words he’d forgotten the meaning of. (One thing I noticed more this time is the contrast in tone between the grander, more eloquent speech of the younger Krapp and that of the older Krapp, who combines a simplified and perhaps purified emotional life with the querulousness of an old man.) An aging man, trapped in his own head, dwelling on his passing life with confusion and longing . . . look, I already live that (I even repeat out loud random words with pleasing sounds, the way Krapp does). I go to the theater to escape from my head, not to hear more echoes.

And yet it’s also a bit too far away from my mundane existence – I can’t help feeling that in this play, Beckett verges on the sentimental. The fragments of life presented – a philosophical epiphany on a stormy waterfront, an old woman singing, an erotic reverie – are all too "poetic", and their texture too unvaried. Even the references to defecation (I assume that’s what all the banana-eating business is about, as well as what I’ve always felt is the way too obvious pun in Krapp’s name) take on a certain poignancy, and the antique charm of a ruin; and the reference to time wasted in public houses has a certain nostalgie de la boue glamour about it. It’s all too much the sort of thing you’d like to remember if you were an old man looking back on your life. Even his regrets are picturesque. Where’s the time lost and wasted in boring office work, the unpleasant commutes, dead-end relationships, and irritating romances? Where’s doing the laundry and the dishes and falling asleep when you’re trying to read because you’re just too tired and the daily little disappointments of life? Where's the stuff you'd rather not remember, but you can't help it because life is made up of so much of it?

There’s a truth about life to the play, but to me its effects feel a bit too calculated to be quite true to life. This is a short work (under an hour), but I think to avoid sentimentality this type of thing either needs to be even shorter or much more varied and contradictory in tone. I already know that the days may pass slowly but the years fly quickly.

So I think that’s why I don’t really connect with the play. It’s close enough to where I live so that I can’t help seeing that too much has been left out. (Maybe it's just too close to home? As I re-read this before hitting post, I'm less certain of my confident assertions about the play.) Would I go see it again? Sure. It’s Beckett, and when you love an artist you trust that even his possible failures are really your failures of perception, and someday you will be enriched by finally understanding their meaning. There’s a lovely moment when Krapp is listening to his tape and he slowly leans forward, head lowered, and embraces the machine that has preserved his younger voice in all its confidence and self-delusion. I hadn't really noticed that last time.


John Marcher said...

You have pretty much just unpacked my fondness for James and the reasons why I've chosen the names of the blogs in plain view of everyone

Thank god it's a sunny day.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I'd be interested in hearing you expand and expound on that. Maybe I should confess that I've had some problems with James the last few novels I read (this was a while ago) -- I started to find his women, dare I say it, vulgar? There was something about their awareness of their situation (rich, independent) that just struck me as (I know this is anachronistic) too entitled. Let me also confess that the gaping hole in my James reading is *blush* The Ambassadors -- not that I've read everything else, but I think that's the only really major one I've never read.
Uh, but The Wings of the Dove is one of my all-time favorite books.

John Marcher said...

So what's changed re "entitlement"? As for the rest, we really will have to discuss that over a meal with drinks. Perhaps many of them, because it is, once one picks up the thread, a vulgar enterprise.

But you really should read "The Ambassadors." You'll hate it for what it identifies, but you'll love it at the same time.