Monday, July 14, 2008

Not Enough Praise for Krapp/Hughie

Another, if late, raving review of Krapp's Last Tape and Hughie, now on stage at the Studio Theatre.

From Gary Smith (the Hamilton Spectator):

"Sometimes lightning strikes twice. It did at Stratford last week.

"I expected Brian Dennehy to be great in Krapp's Last Tape and Hughie.

"But I wasn't prepared for the theatrical thunderbolt that shook the very foundations of the steel trap they call The Studio Theatre.

"Brilliant acting doesn't come along all that often. And when it does -- as it does here -- in a fantastic one-two punch, it's something to savour.

"Dennehy may have made his major reputation in Hollywood action flicks.

"But the thing is, he has always had an affinity for the stage.

"Starring opposite Vanessa Redgrave and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Long Day's Journey Into Night on Broadway, he created a theatrical meltdown Broadway won't ever forget.

"Then, in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre, there was Hughie, another Eugene O'Neill play that made you quiver.

"Well, that's one of the plays Dennehy has brought to Stratford in a new production by American director Robert Falls.

"It's thrilling theatre, polished like a diamond, pure as clean snow.

"Erie Smith is a small-time gambler, a worn man in rumpled white suit. Shambling into the lobby of a seedy West Side hotel, he's just off a bender.

"Part of a seedy world of con men and barflies, he spins elaborate pipe dreams. Wisps of blown smoke hang in the air like wasted hopes.

"Outside, the subway grinds by, a perpetual clash of steel, sending a death rattle into the night.
Inside, a dark cavern of shabby brown remains tomblike and silent. Only the whir of a ceiling fan disturbs the mordant silence.

"Propping up a solid wood counter, flanked by faded fronds of dirty palms, a desk clerk stands bleary eyed.

"As Erie tries to forge a connection, to make contact with something real in the middle of a lonely, bleak city, he talks about Hughie, the hotel's former desk clerk he dominates in a one-sided conversation. Hughie, the hotel's former night man. His conversation reveals as much about himself as it does poor Hughie.

"Dennehy is brilliant, suggesting a cast-iron receptacle for sadness and pain.

"Spinning tired tales, he weaves dreams into a sorry excuse for a wasted life.

"As the hours wind by, he threatens to climb the stairs to his fourth-floor room.

"That he doesn't speaks volumes about loneliness born in midnight hours.

"This is great O'Neill.

"It's also great Dennehy.

"If he isn't the greatest living exponent of this playwright's world of petty nere-do-wells and dreamers, I don't know who is.

"He's supported beautifully here by Joe Grifasi's worn-out desk clerk in a performance of stunning simplicity.

"And the production designed splendidly by Patrick Clark is illuminated with painterly lighting by Robert Thomson.

"Balanced against the cynicism of O'Neill's play comes the evenings coup de grace. A mordant death cry by Samuel Beckett, Krapp's Last Tape is haunting theatre.

"Like Waiting For Godot, it explores a world of loss and desolation.

"Krapp sits at his desk playing old tapes, his life unspooling from shiny metal reels.

"Existing only as hollow memory, these tapes hold clues to a life gone by.

"It's a play about giving up, about relinquishing the dream of love, about chasing earthly mortality.

"Ruthless in the way he forces the present to collide with the past, Beckett creates a dark world with little hope.

"Dennehy morphs into a hollow husk of regret and pain, creating a man who grunts at life and swallows lost hopes. It's a stunning performance , one that grips you by the throat and never lets go.

"Director Jennifer Tarver orchestrates brilliant waves of silence that punctuate sorrow like waves of tears.

"Hughie and Krapp's Last Tape aren't easy theatre to digest. They make you think, feel and regret. That said, they are some of the most thrilling moments on a Stratford stage in years.

"Don't miss this one. Dennehy is a force to be reckoned with."

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