Reel-to-reel recorders may be dinosaurs in the digital era, but Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” will live on as long as human regret and despair do. The 1958 monologue started out life as the curtain raiser to Beckett’s “Endgame.” Now, at the Factory Theatre, Fort Point Theatre Channel has dispelled some of its gloom by pairing it with a brand new work, Brown University student Skylar Fox’s “The Archives.”
Beckett’s play, which has autobiographical elements, is set on “a late evening in the future,” when Krapp will be celebrating — if that’s the word — his 69th birthday. Shambling about the bare stage in black waistcoat and trousers and a grimy collarless white shirt, he sits at a table with a recorder and cardboard boxes from which he extracts taped remnants of his past life, fast-forwarding here, rewinding there, never finding much satisfaction. On this birthday and that, his younger self notes “hours consumed on licensed premises”; he complains of constipation and laments his addiction to bananas; he plans “for a less engrossing sexual life.” He recalls where he was, throwing a black ball to a white dog, at the moment his mother died; he revisits a tender moment with a young woman in a drifting punt. He seems to have spent more time taping his experiences than living them.
Set designer Rick Dorff makes good use of the Factory Theatre’s basement black box: Krapp’s shabby industrial table littered with file boxes and his tall, dilapidated bookshelves all seem to reek of dust. Krapp himself, in the person of Steven Barkhimer, is wild-eyed and has hair sticking out in every direction, as if he’d just emerged from an all-night bender. Barkhimer’s is a protracted interpretation, with a good deal of physical comedy; I wonder whether Beckett didn’t have something crabbier in mind. And the indeterminately drab color of Krapp’s vest and pants here doesn’t pick up on the black-and-white motif that runs through the play. But from his evil grin at the discovery of yet another banana to his unrestrained chortling over the 39-year-old Krapp’s imagined equinox epiphany, Barkhimer creates a Krapp to live in the memory.
Neither Fox’s play nor the performance of it is quite on the same level. Fort Point Theatre Channel’s idea was that “The Archives” would be a “woman-centered” counterpart to “Krapp’s Last Tape.” As she’s about to turn 21, Anna (Allison Smith) receives a box of tapes from her estranged Mom (Karin Trachtenberg), who got them at a yard sale. Anna takes them to a Librarian (Sally Nutt) to have them digitized, and it transpires that they’re Krapp’s tapes — which inspires Anna to embark on her own birthday recording.
“The Archives” teeters on the edge of sentimentality. Trachtenberg has lines that aren’t as funny as she’d like them to be; Nutt is an oddly old-fashioned librarian. Smith at least brings some spontaneity to Fox’s callow Anna. But what’s more engaging than the story line is the way Fox glosses Beckett, from Mom’s calling her daughter “Anna Banana” to the Librarian’s assertion that “no one becomes the person they think they’ll be.” At the end, the reels’ shadows playing on her face the way they did on Krapp’s, the Librarian listens to Krapp recall that drifting punt and recalls her own lost love. It’s a moment that gives Krapp, and “Krapp’s Last Tape,” new life.