Krapp, 39 @ Soho Playhouse, New York

written and performed by
Michael LaurenceMichael Laurence’s Krapp, 39, which just extended its run at the Soho Playhouse, is based on an interesting idea – interesting in theory – but one that fails to come together as a satisfying piece of theatre.

The title is a reference to Samuel Beckett’s Krapps Last Tape, a play in which Krapp, at age 69, plays tapes of himself through the years, particularly from when he was 39.

The idea behind this play then, is that the actor/writer is so looking forward to performing the show Krapp’s Last Tape when he’s aged 69 that he wants to record the monologues of his 39-year-old self now, in his own voice.
As I said, it’s an interesting idea. However, as written and performed by Laurence, the show is a self-referential, naval-gazing exercise that pretty much defines narcissism. I suppose that this show could be very ‘touching and meaningful’ for those among us who are self-defined ‘artists’, secure in the fact that everyone else will never understand the world as they do. The lead character – who is the only character for a reason – is oblivious to the needs of anyone else; other people exist only as an audience.

If you have ever been forced to spend 15 minutes at a party listening to one of these people explain how much better, deeper and more alive they are then you could ever imagine, you will have experienced a small moment of this show. Now stretch this awkward moment out to 90 minutes and you’ll have a pretty good handle on Krapp, 39.

Laurence fully acknowledges that his character is willful, selfish and short sighted. However this admission of imperfection is used only to show the audience that the author is more honest about himself than the audience could ever hope to be. The author revels in his imperfections. He loves them, he worships these character flaws, which ultimately means they arent flaws at all.

I’m aware mine is a minority view. Reviews of the show have been excellent and the production won the Outstanding Solo Show at the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival. And while Michael Laurence performed the piece beautifully, I couldnt stand him.

If you’ve seen Krapps Last Tape, then the play will clearly be more meaningful, as there are references to it throughout Krapp, 39. But to those less familiar with Beckett, this piece is a 90 minute self-indulgent trip through a life that is celebrated for being shallow.

Despite my negative reaction I was able to recognise how impressive the staging was with its use of hand-held video camera and projected images. But towards the end, even these images started to feel trite and seemed only to provide visual confirmation of the writer/performer /characters ‘uniqueness.’

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