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Sturua’s «Last Tape» Poignant, But Not Potent
"The Moscow Times" ,
A new production of Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the Et Cetera Theater sent me to the books for a surprise or two.I thought this one-man show starring Alexander Kalyagin under the direction of the great Georgian director Robert Sturua was utterly wrong. I was shocked by how far Sturua’s sentimental production strayed from Beckett’s searing, hard-hitting play about an aging man who fails to recognize himself when he listens to his own tape-recorded diary from 30 years ago. That is when I went to school and learned a thing or two. Curious, I dug back into the archives to take a look at what other critics have said. To my amazement, some of the finest observers of the last 40 years also saw “Krapp’s Last Tape” more as poignant than as potent. This leaves me only one choice – to rail at some critics as well as at Sturua, in my opinion, one of the most important directors of our age. Beckett’s play is no bedroom tear-jerker, which is what the show at the Et Cetera eventually becomes; it is a howl in the wilderness, a defiant retort thrown at the inherent injustice of the world. It is Beckett’s insolent and angry declaration that the world has been created to be misunderstood, forgotten and lost. Love, youth, intelligence, talent -- all are temporal, all are vain. Beckett’s triumph as a writer, and our privilege as his audience, is that for the time it takes his play to be performed, we have the opportunity to recognize, and therefore briefly overcome, this tragic and cruel aspect of the human condition. Most everything Beckett wrote was in some way a dialogue, usually an angry one, with God. Moreover, Beckett did not back down. His characters, like the 69-year-old Krapp who published a novel no one read and now must use a dictionary to decipher words he once used freely, are anything but victors, anything but noble. But even in their varying states of disintegration, they have an ineradicable dignity. It is entirely against their nature to beg for mercy and they certainly do not pity themselves. Sturua’s production, which incorporates segments of Beckett’s novel Molloy, completely reinterprets the reasons for Krapp’s disillusionment, muting his fury into soft-spoken sadness. This confused and suffering Krapp is obsessed with his memories of women, one of whom he once made love to in a boat on a lake. Sturua repeatedly even brings a generic female figure on stage in the form of a silent, gently smiling specter who lights a candle for Krapp, plays with his pet turtle and tenderly rifles through his possessions. Equally debatable was Sturua’s resolution to free Krapp of direct interaction with the tape machine on which he listens to his old recordings. This is intended by the author as a kind of prison – he handcuffs his character by making him constantly deal with the recorder and the tapes. In this production, however, the recorded voice appears and disappears as if by magic as Krapp wanders aimlessly about the stage interacting with a radio that won’t shut up, a strange duo of umbrellas and a live miniature turtle. Sturua further liberated his Krapp by replacing the reel-to-reel tapes of the original with small, hermetic cassettes that demand none of the attention nor create none of the frustrations that unwieldy spools of tape would. Sturua’s shifting of the play’s resonance from existentialism to melancholy is echoed in Gia Kancheli’s music and Georgy Alexi-Meskhishvili’s set. Kancheli’s spare music frequently announces the appearance of the girl or underscores Krapp’s thoughts about her with heart-stirring single chords that attack and then disappear. The environment created by Alexi-Meskhishvili is, to my thoughts, completely alien to Beckett’s supreme simplicity: In this space cluttered with junk, it is unclear whether Krapp lives in a messy apartment or outside as a homeless person in a dreary empty lot surrounded by a chain link fence. Kalyagin’s place in this is a difficult one. He does a fine job of creating a pitiable old man it is easy to sympathize with. His quiet voice, his usually placid temperament, his soft movements – even in rare, aggravated outbursts -- all endear us to his hapless character. But I could not make peace with the fact that Sturua had deprived me of the catharsis Beckett was willing to provide.