Splinter Group, at the Theatre Building.

Watching Samuel Beckett’s one-act, you can see where Edward Albee got his powerful second-act device in Three Tall Women: a character splits in three, representing three periods of her life. Beckett invented the strategy in 1958, when he had Krapp, a dying old man, confront a tape recording he’d made 30 years earlier: trying to describe an inconclusive love match, he’s certain that his best days are behind him–a great rationale for throwing away your future. Nonetheless he resolves to burn with a fire the years would not extinguish.

Beckett shows how, though we cling to the illusion of a continuous personality, we evolve from one person to another–and, perversely, a full life is summed up by the last person we occupy. In Krapp’s Last Tape the man has become a grizzled, hard-drinking, 69-year-old codger. Matt O’Brien paints him with a look so haunted and quizzical it’s hard to exorcise, and in a potent case of art imitating life, the actor conjures up the aged Beckett.

If O’Brien’s portrait is perfect, other elements in this “Buckets o’ Beckett” production are less persuasive. Krapp’s lines often succumb to a drunken slur. Worse, the recording may be Krapp’s worst tape–it’s often exasperatingly inaudible. But in a fascinating departure from tradition, Krapp is seated in profile, so we see his body slump with sorrow. At the memorable end he falls asleep (or expires), listening to his own earlier hopeful prattle about the future.