KPBS AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 16, 2000
Trying to analyze, interpret, dissect or explain the work of Samuel Beckett is often, like his plays, an exercise in futility. So instead of trying, in the face of a veritable Becketteria these last few months…. “Waiting For Godot” last spring, and two quickies — “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Play” now at Sledgehammer Theatre, I thought you might get a better sense of the profound meaninglessness of it all from a little segment of an anonymous Beckett spoof called “Waiting for Krapp.” The characters — Soso, an unemployed actor, and Putzo, his agent, have just had a visitation from Beckett, their playwright, while waiting for someone named Krapp.
PUTZO: (EXCITEDLY) Did you hear what he said? Think of it. None of this can be interpreted. This is Art, damn it. Didn’t you hear him?
PUTZO: Great Art is immune from interpretation. Like a… a… virus that no one can kill. Isn’t that fantastic?
PUTZO: Don’t you see? This play will live forever. We’re immortal. Provided of course that it’s all “Krapp.”
SOSO: Oh, it’s all “Krapp” all right, believe you me.
PUTZO: “Believe” you? Don’t you ever learn? Nothing we say has any meaning. That’s what makes all this Art. Only utter meaninglessness can inspire artistic belief.
SOSO: I had hoped….
PUTZO: Don’t you see that in a meaningless Universe, in Wal-Mart or in an avant-garde play, hope is a sin? Have faith… and despair. That’s my advice.
[SOSO: There you go. Consoling me. I no longer want consolation. You’ve cured me of that. I want to suffer continually.
PUTZO: Welcome to the avant garde, my friend.]
So, there you have it. There’s an intrinsic, nihilistic impenetrability to Beckett’s words. No comforting answers. Just the raw, acrid, hopeless destiny of the human race. It’s a portrait of desolation, boredom, sorrow, lovelessness and ultimately, nothingness. And yet, two plays that, combined, take up about ten pages of text, manage to consume almost two hours of Sledgehammer stage-time.
Matthew Wilder, UCSD alum and former local theater provocateur, returns to his old stomping grounds for a fascinating, if intentionally glacial, evening of Beckett. Very inventive takes on the two plays, in which memory haunts and the past never fades.
“Play” shines a spotlight on an unconsummated ménage à trois, a man and two women, already dead, nearly obscured from view in their separate body bags, rerunning their failed marriage and extramarital affair in a rainbow of emotional tones. “Krapp’s Last Tape” focuses on a shabby, dissolute man, playing back his earlier life — lost love, lost ambition. Hey, it’s Beckett. All is lost.
Wilder has used a wonderfully modernizing, youthifying device to make those video instead of audio tapes, though it does diminish the need for audience imagination. But it’s the performances here that boggle the mind. The two women, Sarah Gunnell and Anna C. Miller, are potent adversaries in “Play.” And in “Krapp,” Bruce McKenzie has once again found the perfect vehicle. We’re onstage right next to him, in his office, watching him fall apart, simultaneously viewing close-ups of him on video monitors, seeing his eye twitch, his hand shake, and also periodically observing him on video as a more youthful, more hopeful man. McKenzie may be a tad young for the role, but his intensity is riveting, almost frightening. In the end, it may all be pointless, but it’s not a performance to miss.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.