KRAPP’S LAST TAPE and
at Cafe Voltaire
All the problems with this duo of one-acts can be summarized in one word: television. Live theater survives because people want the intimacy and subtlety not available on even the best TV shows. The two works here are meant to explore the different sorts of prisons, physical and emotional, that bind people, and the element director Christopher Adam has chosen to link the two one-acts is a television. Television could easily play a role in these stories, but rather than use this charged object imaginatively, Adam wields it like a sledgehammer, obliterating the nuances of live theater and the humanity he so obviously hoped to achieve.
His mistake is most unfortunate in the brilliant Beckett classic Krapp’s Last Tape. As originally conceived, Krapp has periodically recorded his observations on audiotape. Now a bitter old man, he reviews one of the tapes and hears his younger self speak of a lost love. The power of the play lies in the subtlety of the old man’s reactions to the younger man’s voice. But Adam reduces the impact by using videotape rather than audio: we don’t see the older Krapp wither with regret at a life poorly lived; instead the lights are dimmed so we might better see a badly taped image of the younger Krapp, who refers to his script far too often. Judging by Adam’s bland staging, it seems he assumed the play would speak for itself, so there was no need to confuse matters with dramatic interpretation.
With such limitations in direction it’s difficult to gauge the merit of Joel R. Lang’s performance as Krapp. While his sad face and spindly body are evocative of Krapp’s folly, Lang does not explore the emotional dimensions latent in the great play. Even the pathos of Krapp’s obsession with bananas is tossed off, yielding only a limp sight gag. The focus remains on the glowing tube, a focus that ignores Beckett’s intention.
The second piece, Troy Box, fares even worse, because it uses the television as a literal torture device, with the audience its real victim. Loosely adapted by Adam from Euripides’ Trojan Women, the 30-minute work consists of a bloodied woman, bound in a straitjacket, writhing on the floor as a television blares static and snippets of popular culture. This is interrupted briefly when the woman crawls to the edge of the stage and begins to tell the fortunes of audience members, which are far better than her own fate. While it’s clear she’s a prisoner of a male-dominated society (a male voice orders her about while flashes of pornography and Donna Reed appear on the screen), it’s impossible to feel compassion for her because of the pretension and pointless discomfort of the work. The woman never advances beyond her symbolic status, and Baj Burinski’s performance is completely obscured by Adam’s blunt concept. He should study the chemistry of his work: in the future he might better mix his media to create a strong medicine instead of a weakly fizzing potion.