KRAPP’S LAST TAPE, PUS (Performers Under Stress), at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. In the late 80s and early 90s–back before Splinter Group’s Buckets o’ Beckett stole their thunder–Charles Pike and Scott Baker earned the moniker “the Beckett Boys” for their hard-edged, low-budget, powerful productions of the playwright’s shorter, less frequently produced works. Performing under the name PUS, for “Performers Under Stress,” they broke up five years ago when Pike moved to New Mexico, leaving Baker to carve a place for himself as an off-Loop actor specializing in intense, slightly crazed characters.

Half a decade later Baker has returned to his Beckettian roots, directing a new ultralow-budget version of Beckett’s 1958 masterpiece, Krapp’s Last Tape. Baker’s direction of this haunting, relentlessly unsentimental portrait of a failed writer at 69 is crisp, clean, and intelligent. Attempting nothing fancy–simplicity was the soul of the Beckett Boys’ wit–Baker wisely follows the playwright’s detailed stage directions to the letter, right down to the intentionally buffoonish sound effects representing Krapp’s repeated trips backstage to open and drain yet another bottle of wine.

Sadly, Turk Muller lacks Pike’s range and depth, and his regular-guy, blue-collar stage persona is in constant conflict with Beckett’s intellectually pretentious protagonist. Making matters worse is Muller’s excessively American reading of the lines, which robs many of them of their power and glory. –Jack Helbig