encountering your past self

Samuel Beckett’s play, Krapp’s Last Tape, now being performed at the Keegan Theatre, resonates poignantly in our age of cheap, easy, and ubiquitous digital recording. Imagine thirty years from now looking back at your Facebook News Feed, or at your e-mail archive. Imagine looking through the old digital photos piled up on your hard drive or watching a personal video that you recorded a long time ago. Even if you don’t have such records, your family and friends do, and they will share them with you. Memory of your past self has been growing rapidly outside your and others’ minds.

Bits of Krapp’s memory of his life reside in spools of reel-to-reel tape.  As a sixty-nine-year-old, Krapp listens to a taped diary entry he recorded thirty years earlier.  His recorded voice, in turn, talks about past events, including a recording that Krapp made about a decade earlier.  Krapp reacts viscerally to scenes his recorded voice describes, he condemns his old self’s thoughts and attitudes, and he continually manipulates his recorded voice by stopping, rewinding, and skipping sections of the tape.  As a counterpoint to this fragmented, varying spool of himself through time, Krapp relishes saying, and experiencing himself saying, the word “spool”.  The sensuousness of a banana that he retrieves from drawer in the desk drives him into a frenzy of physical appetites.  Sense of presence of oneself across a long span of time jars all levels of neural processing.  How could I have thought what I thought?  I am physically here, not there, this I, I am.

The Keegan Theatre’s production conveys beautifully both the all-encompassing flow of time and the altered attentional response to distanced viewing.  As the audience enters and finds seats, Krapp sits, facing the audience across a  desk that has its working side toward the audience.  The play has no definitive start.  The audience has the protagonist’s desk position for a review of Krapp’s old self. But, distancing and objectifying these circumstances, Krapp is silent, stationary,  and framed on the stage like a portrait placed on a black background.  I found myself scrutinizing and interpreting Krapp’s facial expressions, which varied slowly over time.  Thus I entered into solo actor Brian Hemmingsen’s expressive, sympathetic, and continually engaging performance of Krapp’s Last Tape.  Everyone who can should see this Krapp.

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Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett, directed by David Bryan Jackson, starring Brian Hemmingsen, presented by Keegan Theatre new island project at the Theatre on the Run, February 19 through March 14, 2009.

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