Monday, December 19, 2011

Weekend of Regret: Krapp's Last Tape & Follies Revisited

Somehow I managed to schedule an entire weekend of theater about older people looking back at their younger selves after the passage of 30 years: Krapp's Last Tape from the Gate Theatre starring John Hurt and Follies on Broadway.  Obviously, the shows have very different styles:  Follies being a Sondheim musical about former Follies girls with ghosts of their younger selves dancing around the stage in sequins and Krapp being a 55 minute one man Samuel Beckett play that drifts between delicate clowning and profound sadness.  But both of them will make you want to kill yourself at some point along the way.  Lucky I had some friends to chat with after each show that prevented me from just going home reading my junior high school diary and committing suicide. 

Krapp's Last Tape is an exercise in stillness, silence and minimalism.  John Hurt plays 69 year old Krapp who takes out a reel to reel player to listen to his 39 year old self on the tape discuss his aspirations and love affairs from 30 years ago.  Although the piece begins with a comical turn with a banana and a delightful performance by the best squeaky shoes ever, once he gets down to business about the tape, the tone shifts.  He's angry with his younger self, mocking, frustrated and then utterly saddened and lost in the voice of the past.  Certainly a wonderful opportunity to see John Hurt on stage and ponder one's own reflections on a youthful version of ourselves.

I have reviewed Follies before but I really wanted to see it again now that I finished reading Ted Chapin's great book Everything Was Possible (a must read).  I am happy to report that I liked it even more the third time around.  I was able to see the show from up close and I think it made a big difference.  Being closer I was able to appreciate the subtleties in the performances a lot more.  Bernadette Peters has really stepped up her game in the role of Sally.  Her voice and song performances sounded fantastic.  She plays the role closer to breakdown more throughout the show which helps made clear the level of delusion taking place in her mind.  Ron Raines, again, gives a heart-breaking performance as Ben, the man desperate to feel again.  Jan Maxwell still delivers on every icy line for Phyllis and I appreciated her devastating interactions with young Phyllis this time.  I have grown really fond of Elaine Paige's ditzy little asides and comical bits in the dance sequences.  Her delivery of I'm Still Here is sharp and powerful.  I am completely convinced I don't dislike Danny Burstein; I just dislike his character of Buddy. So that should make a certain @mrtylermartins happier.  The Loveland sequence made more sense to me and I could tolerate it more this time. 

I could not help but think as I was watching Follies that I am profoundly lucky to have seen this production because I am not sure a better one will come along in my lifetime.  I still think the Loveland set is terrible and the flashing Loveland lights do give me epilepsy.  But this production offers up a fantastic cast, doing their utmost to live up to the original work.  I hope it gets the recognition it deserves at Tony time.

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