nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 22, 2009
There need be no pretense of pure objectivity here: I saw Krapp, 39 in its first incarnation last summer at the New York International Fringe Festival and I liked it so well that I decided to publish it in my upcoming anthology, Plays and Playwrights 2009. Subsequently, I spent a fair amount of time reading through the script and working with its author Michael Laurence to prep it for publication, so I'm familiar enough with it that my companion at SoHo Playhouse for this new off-Broadway mounting of Krapp, 39 noticed that I started to laugh before the lines were even fully spoken.
But abject subjectivity seems appropriate for a play about a man at middle age looking into the mirror and obsessively shaping and reshaping and reshaping and reshaping what he sees there, trying to shake from the image the vestiges of failure that always seem to cling to it. Krapp, 39 is Laurence's smart, funny, wise, and profound riff on/response to Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, transplanting the locale of that one-man-show-with-tape-recorder from the end of a possibly wasted and used-up life to the middle of one that only seems like those things; and moving it forward technologically so that the archiving equipment now includes a handheld video camera with a live feed captured on a TV monitor.
The inciting incident of Krapp, 39 is the protagonist's notion to record, in a theatre in front an audience, the taped monologue from Beckett's Krapp—which recording will then be stored for use in a future production of Krapp's Last Tape starring our protagonist when he himself is 69 (Krapp's age), some 30 years from now. If it sounds hopelessly meta-theatrical, well, it's not: Not one passage from Beckett's play is uttered here. Instead, we are witness to journeys backward and forward through the life and memories and anxieties and regrets and hopes and fears of this man on stage, whose name is Michael Laurence by the way (and is indeed portrayed by our playwright) but is only a representation of Michael Laurence—or more correctly a set of representations, from phone conversations, journals, and filtered reminiscences.
Ok, so now I've made it sound hopelessly precious and difficult, and it isn't either of those things. Krapp, 39 is very funny and very accessible and should resonate with anyone who has ever examined his or her life (which is probably just about all of us). If you're nearing middle age it will strike you in one way, I think, and if, like me, you're safely past it, it will strike you in another way. See it for yourself to find out.
Laurence—directed here by George Demas in a technically complicated, and flawless, production—is magnificent as ...himself. The performance, like the script, is carefully layered and constantly surprising. I noticed many new details as I saw it again, after more or less living with it for a few months while we worked on it for our book.
In closing, I'm sorry if this review breaches every kind of idealized critical neutrality but very happy to have had a chance to write it (because I didn't review Krapp, 39 at FringeNYC last August). It's a rich, ripe stimulating work that's as rewarding to ponder afterward as it is to experience.