Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Desdemona & Krapp's Last Tape"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


by Paula Vogel
Directed by Patrick Demers

Stage Manager Mayer Lipman

Desdemona..........................Jennifer Alison
Emilia.................................Christine Hamel
Bianca....................................Hillary Alcuri

"Krapp's Last Tape"

by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Samuel Reich

Krapp...................................Douglas Griffin

Set Designs by Sean McIntosh
Costume Designs by Cindy Stone
Lighting Design by Greg Jutkiewicz
Sound Design by Anthony Gabriel
Technical Director Brett Bundock

The Boston Directors' Lab continues to challenge and delight with this Winter Series of two plays, one new to Boston, the other a classic given new life. Directors Samuel Reich and Patrick Demers worked separately, and though the package of two plays is done on the same nights and a special reduced admission for both is available (and Strongly Recommended!),the only thing uniting them is their excellence. Samuel Reich and Samuel Beckett and Douglas Griffin deal in a musty, dusty one-bulb room with the subtly wry and even ludicrous view an old man takes on a self thirty years younger --- listening to and then commenting on a ritual annual year-summation tape. Patrick Demers and Paula Vogel take an uninhibited look at the sex-lives of the three women in Shakespeare's "Othello" --- with gusto!

It's possible --- recommended, actually! --- to go to The Actors' Workshop just to see these two plays and enjoy a night of good theater. However, if the name "Directors' Lab" is to be taken seriously, comments here should properly be focused on what each one brought to his play --- as much as anyone who merely sat in the audience for one night can try. And since it's shortest, let's take the last play first:

First of all Samuel Reich cast Douglas Griffin as Krapp. He is a tall, bony scarecrow of a man whose aristocratic face in repose has an absent, inward stare. Like many Beckett characters he is always thinking though rarely divulging what about. And, as a clue to the wry Irish wit buried in Beckett's work, Reich gave him a pair of long, white, bulbous-toed clown's shoes.

And, in a brilliant touch, he gave him only one light-bulb. That means that when Krapp takes it into his head to hobble into the gloom to choose from an army of uncorked half-drunk bottles of wine, he must first Unscrew the bulb hung above his desk, then screw it into a wall-socket --- and of course kick the wall to make the light go on! Ritual and rote-action are Beckett's tools, as are his characters' decision to put up with difficulties they cannot change. Stoic endurance is their primary virtue.

It's significant that the younger Krapp, recording thirty years earlier, pompously declares his life over, while the elder can call the sales of a piddling number of his book "Getting known!" The sham despair of the young contrasts eloquently with what director Reich underlines as Krapp's LAST tape by the sudden, final shattering of that lone light-bulb.
Whether first or last on the night's bill, "Krapp's Last Tape" is worth waiting for.

In contrast to Beckett's astringent, laconic implications, Paula Vogel has taken the wives of Othello and Iago and Cassio's whore, and remade them as lusty, gutsy modern recreations. Away from their men, they confess and compare, revealing things Will Shakespeare would never have thought possible!

Patrick Demers has been at pains to make the social levels of these three women clear:
Desdemona is a spoiled Venetian princess, an innocent playing with life because she has always had a freedom to experiment without fear of consequences. Her maid Emilia is here presented as a working-girl --- an Irish Catholic, faithful to the letter of morality and marital chastity while taking a dim view of the life-mate she cannot change. Bianca is a sex-worker, shrewd but uneducated, willing for anything so long as she's paid for it.

Patrick Demers has enhanced the cinematic flow of these scenes by making each scene-break continue and bridge them with dumb-show. Conversation is interrupted, but not story. He has allowed these very different women to be girly-girls, outrageous adolescents, blandly critical wives, and bottom-line prostitutes by turns. The period costumes and the references to facts in "Othello" never overwhelm the very contemporary, surprising innovations (Bianca teaching Desdemona how to make money at bare-bottomed spanking, for instance!). The result is biting satire and outrageous fun.

All in all, an evening of excellent theater.


"Desdemona" & "Krapp's Last Tape" (1 - 17 March)
Actors' Workshop, 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617)469-9339

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide