Krapp’s Last Tape and Hughie
Wilkerson Theatre (formerly The California Stage)1723 25th St.
Sacramento, CA 95816
The current Actor’s Theatre offering of a Beckett/O’Neill double feature showcases a couple of class acts—both in playwriting and in performers.
Not many local theaters would offer up a double dose of two playwriting legends as well as two Sacramento-area acting legends. But Ed Claudio’s Actor’s Theatre gives us both Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill one-acts, as well as the incomparable thespian team of Claudio and Mitch Agruss—all supported by the deft directing skills of Janis Stevens and Mark Heckman. It’s a celebration of everything that’s right in theater: great writing, delicate directing and the incredible opportunity to witness acting at its finest.
First, it’s an interesting pairing of playwrights. Miller is a master of meaningful dialogue, while Beckett is a master of meaningful pauses between limited dialogue. The two one-act plays chosen by Actor’s Theatre—Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and O’Neill’s Hughie, are diverse in style, yet complement each other in subject matter. Both are basically monologues of two old curmudgeons pontificating on their lots in life; one without much sentimentality, the other without much self-awareness.
Second, it’s a perfect pairing of two theater lions, Claudio and Agruss, both of whom have trod numerous stages and who have much respect for and within the local theater scene.
In Hughie, Claudio portrays Erie, an aging, two-bit hustler who is still looking for a mark and an audience, and if he gets both in one shot, he’s hit pay dirt. Erie is missing hotel night manager Hughie, who fulfilled Erie’s two requirements: a patient ear and a willing wallet. From the very first post-bender stumble into the hotel lobby, Claudio carefully captures the sad-sackness of Erie, a man who knowingly messed up the past but only dwells in the present, never learning anything for the future. Just when you feel a heart tug for the lonely drunkard, Claudio reaches in and pulls out Erie’s irresistible chutzpah and you find yourself secretly rooting for one more cock-and-bull story and one more hustle gone right.
In Krapp’s Last Tape, Agruss quietly captures the odd, reflective birthday ritual of Krapp, a small, wizened man who only has his past as his birthday present. Every year on his birthday, Krapp faces his reel-to-reel tape recorder, picks a past year to listen to and records the musings of his current birthday.
On this evening, Krapp’s 69th birthday, he chooses to listen to a tape made when he was 39, reflecting back on his even younger self. There are not too many actors who can successfully pull off Beckett, with emphasis on pauses, gestures and grimaces, but Agruss is definitely one of them. Agruss says more when he doesn’t speak than most actors say while reciting dialogue, and he does so brilliantly during the first 10 minutes of the play, when he doesn’t utter a single word. There’s a poignant beauty in watching Agruss shuffle, stumble, shake, grasp, grimace, gaze into nothingness and even dance through a quirky ritual of peeling a banana. It’s heartbreaking, haunting, and at times, hilarious.
If you love good theater and memorable performances, don’t miss the chance to witness the best of both with this Beckett/O’Neill double feature.