nytheatre.com review by Kelly Aliano
August 12, 2008
Krapp, 39, written and performed by Michael Laurence and directed by George Demas, is a brilliant re-imagining of Samuel Beckett's 1958 play Krapp's Last Tape. Beckett's play focuses on a 69-year-old man going over recordings he has made of the events of his life, covering such important events as the death of his mother and the loss of his one great love. Laurence's piece covers this same trajectory. However, the technology has been updated for a more sophisticated, multimedia, 21st century world. Gone is the outdated reel-to-reel recording device, and, in its stead, are an Apple laptop computer, a microphone, a handheld camcorder, and a flat-screen television—i.e., the best in modern recording technology.
The concept is, on the surface, quite simple. Laurence has decided to record himself on his 39th birthday, just as Beckett's Krapp had done, using old journal entries and archived telephone conversations as source material. Laurence will tell the story of his life to a machine, in order that it may be preserved for his future reference. Then, Laurence plans to bury these recordings for 30 years, to be brought out again on his 69th birthday, for a performance of Beckett's play.
This seemingly simple concept for a project unearths unforeseen complications, mostly of the emotional ilk. Laurence is forcing himself to face his life, and in doing so, he must attempt to come to terms with all of life's failures, tragedies, and disappointments. Laurence reenacts his past journal entries (all from his chair, into his microphone) with a perfect mixture of self-deprecating humor and self-reflective melancholy. He is superb at simultaneously bringing to life the past moment for the present location while still actively playing the current moment of a man looking back over his life.
The set is a clever conglomeration of the aforementioned technological devices, complimented by an upstage table covered with "stuff"—books, pictures, knickknacks—items that appear to be mementos of Laurence's existence. At specific moments, Laurence uses the camcorder to pan over these items, occasionally choosing one to focus on for a longer period, or to leave as a background broadcast on the television screen. In this way, these things become somehow emblematic of the life that Laurence has lived, as though the events of one's days can be preserved in the accumulation of souvenirs, as though memories can be forever captured in photographs and letters.
The play is heartbreaking, hilarious, and enormously relevant. As someone who has been young her entire life, I too am petrified of that moment when I will realize that I am no longer young. For Krapp, according to Laurence's analysis, that moment came at 39, and therefore Laurence has chosen to see that age in the same light. Krapp, 39 makes evident the universality of Beckett's work; as obscure or complex as Beckett's plays may seem, he was always writing about what it is, at the most basic level, to be human. In doing so, we can all, as Laurence has done, see ourselves in Beckett's characters. In a recorded telephone conversation played during the show, the director of Krapp, 39 puts it best in his advice to Laurence. He reminds him not to imagine himself as Krapp. Rather, he should imagine Krapp is him.