This production – with technical direction & design by Audio Visual Terrorism (director Vagabond and lighting operator Omar Villegas) – is conceived, adapted and performed by Dennis Leroy Kangalee with the permission of the Becket estate, thanks to Concord Theatricals licensing.
A result of a year-long workshop with the KANGALEE ARTS ENSEMBLE — my new performance collective aimed at celebrating the tragic dimensions & radical proclivities of the “clown” within the Theater of the Absurd, and both the social & political urgency of the solo performer — this new production of KRAPP’S LAST TAPE by Samuel Beckett kicks off November 18-20, 2022 at Studio 111 @ 111 Conselyea Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211.
For three exclusive days, I shall be sharing the performance I have been developing ever since my epiphany about the play – while being extremely sick with Covid in February, 2021. While feeling I might die, I finally understood how to play the part of Krapp. This production is the result.
This play of memories, old age, failure, technological documentation and human deterioration — might be Samuel Beckett’s most accessible play.
What could be more instantly dramatic than an old man listening to himself as a younger man on recorded tapes?
And then watching that man record his very last tape, his last diary entry?
What is more perennial than knowing we do not cherish our living moments?
There is something very Zen about all this, the script itself…and doing Beckett’s plays. While not “actor proof” as Marlon Brando often observed about most human dilemmas in drama, this piece is so arresting to audiences if done correctly because it is not only his most straight forward play (what you see is truly what you get) but it’s emotionally moving because of it’s compressed action and economy (literally every beat of the play is significant) emotional range, and stunning language.
A hallmark of modern theater and a favorite of Beckett academics as well as prisoners who often can relate to Beckett’s plays better than anyone, my version implicates cultural and emotional similarities between the Irish and Black people by subtly fusing Beckett’s “Irish-ness” with a West Indian lilt and bringing forth the gallows humor of the oppressed in a unique way; making a personal journey a political one as well.
MODERNISM AND THE FUTURE
The play is set in “an evening in the future.” That is a loaded direction. It could also imply that it is almost pitch-perfect for a middle aged actor to do the role and project himself 30 years into a battered future. A post-apocalyptic one.
“A late evening in the future” — it works as a cosmic exercise for an actor and for the notion of technology. The personal tape recorder had just been made available for consumers around the time Beckett wrote the play in 1958. A 69 year old man in 1958 obviously could not have been recording reel-to-reels of himself since 1928. This idea alone is why Beckett projects INTO the future. There is an argument that it is created for the middle-aged actor (or younger) who must pitilessly thrust himself 30 years into the future….
And age. What is it to be 69? Obviously not what it was in 1958, 1988…or what it shall mean in 30 years time.
Now, closing in on the helm of half a century, I shiver at wondering what I will discover about the play (and myself) when I am 69 and perform the play as a man in his 90s!
Krapp’s Last Tape may be the most perfect piece of writing for the theater. Its cubistic beauty, the past and present and future tenses collide into a humbling and terrifying question we all ask ourselves on those dreadful anxious days at 4AM, haunted by unfulfilled promises and our weakest commitments. If there is a future it is one that we must face naked and, no doubt, trembling…because the moments, like a great song, do end. Krapp’s Last Tape to me is an expression of living and dying; it is personal and universal, cosmic and political.
TAPES VERSUS REELS
For practical and aesthetic reasons, I decided to literalize the “tape” aspect of the play and use cassette tapes and not a reel-to-reel. I wanted a personal connection; I could relate to my past life amidst cassette tapes, as any other person born post 1960 in a metropolis probably can.
The emphasis on the cassette tapes contextualize the production in a strangely “modern” way that also hints at an urbane quality and acknowledges the past; the nostalgia now of cassette tapes rather than compact-discs and now mp4 digital downloads and audio streaming put the personal connection of the play firmly within the grip of Generation X. The generation of mix tapes and walkmans.
An unexplainable obsession of mine since 1996, I first performed Krapp’s Last Tape while at Juilliard in Lincoln Center in the fall of 1996. I was precocious. It was interesting, highly imaginative…but it lacked soul. I hadn’t yet understood what having a past had meant. I understood death but I had no relation to regret or a life I had let pass through my fingers. I understood anger, I understand angst. But it took me many years to internalize the impact of loss, personal failure…and the desire to confront that.
Conceptually, my work on it is an extension of my own investigations into solo performance and the ‘passion of the clown’ as both truth teller and doomed romantic. A holy fool. Where Shakespeare was always too emphatic on “Kings” and “Queens,” Beckett expressed the pathos and antics of the powerless. And it was connecting to his penchant for the dispossessed and the perception of the underdog that I most organically related to when approaching his plays.
Box Three, Spool Five: A Documentary About My Connection to Beckett
Surveying my inclinations towards mining similarities between Black American Blues and Irish gallows humor – and settling on a West Indian middle ground – will be part of an on-going process documented in a complementary essay film about the experience of returning to acting after nearly two decades via Beckett, his antiauthoritarian proclivities, and my deep admiration for Krapp’s Last Tape as a beautiful work of art.
Updates on this as well as the next phase of my “Clowns” projects, Propaganda Restored: A Romantic Comedy for Rebels, a satire about a “radical Nichols & May” type comedy duo and a group of middle-aged radicals, will follow soon. Stay tuned.