Richard Ouzounian (Toronto Star) gives a perfect score to the double bill of Krapp's Last Tape and Hughie:
"When true greatness comes our way in the theatre, we have to pause and try to find the words to express it properly.
"That's the happy dilemma this critic finds himself in after the Saturday night opening of Hughie and Krapp's Last Tape at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
"Two very different plays by two giants of 20th-century theatre are linked by the common theme of grief and that the stupendous Brian Dennehy appears in both.
"Dennehy has performed in Hughie several times before, but Krapp's Last Tape marks his debut in the role and the combination of the two shows is sheer theatrical dynamite.
"Hughie is in many ways the simpler play of the two and may seem slight at first glance, but once viewed through the rear-view mirror of Krapp's Last Tape, it acquires a stunning retrospective power.
"One of the last works O'Neill ever wrote, Hughie is set in the lobby of a fleabag hotel in the New York theatre district, where – in Patrick Clark's starkly effective design – a clock dominates the action, reminding us of the one element we can't escape.
"The wonderfully understated Joe Grifasi plays the new desk clerk at the hotel, replacing the recently deceased Hughie of the title.
"With a slight uncertainty, in swaggers Brian Dennehy as Erie Smith, resident of the hotel, coming off of a five-day drunk he went on after Hughie died.
"Smith is a hollow man who's failed at everything he's tried, but he keeps the 'pipe dream' of success flickering in a corner of his heart.
"Hughie was Erie's enabler, to use the trendy modern term, the one who helped him think his fantasies could become reality. But this new desk clerk has a sphinx-like impassivity that neither confirms nor denies Erie's dreams.
"Grifasi is brilliant as he looks at this hollow braggart and with his cool, neutral eyes provides an MRI into his soul.
"By the end of an hour, Dennehy has blustered, charmed, crashed and burned. Nothing really happens, yet everything happens.
"We see a man who's lived on lies and finally realizes that maybe, just maybe, he better switch to the truth.
"Dennehy, with the guiding hand of his director, Robert Falls, has such texture as Erie that it looks effortless. It's not a showy performance, but it's a heartfelt one.
"He gives us small feelings the way only a big man can and at times is so disarmingly honest that you have to look away.
"On its own, it would be a fine piece of work, but then, after a 20-minute intermission, we catapult into the sublime.
"The minute Robert Thomson's merciless lights flick on the face of Dennehy as the haunted Krapp, you gasp in astonishment.
"It's the eyes of the damned that look out at you, all the easy bonhomie of the first play long forgotten.
"There are no tricks of makeup, but the profounder magic of an actor reaching deep, deep inside himself to create another person.
"Beckett's Krapp is 69 years old, living on bananas and memories of the past. He keeps playing the audio tapes he has made over the years and listening to them as they form a prison of despair he can't escape.
"It's a marvel to hear Dennehy's voice, perfectly capturing the sound of a man 30 years younger, when there was still hope and possibilities in his life.
"It's even more of a marvel to look into the death's head he wears today and watch him as he's forced to confront the man he used to be.
"Jennifer Tarver has directed with a rigorous hand. There is no gratuitous movement, no easy sentimentality. This is the thing itself, a man going 10 rounds with the person he was 30 years before.
"It's not pretty. It has no facile uplifting ending. And Dennehy is brave enough to simply lay his cards on the table, even though he knows he has a losing hand.
"A great actor at the service of two great playwrights. It doesn't get any better than that."