(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)
To a certain extent, each of us is haunted by our past, by the things we did or didn’t say, by the things we wish we’d done. Fortunately for our everyday lives, most of us aren’t gripped by the aching nostalgia of a Samuel Beckett play.
“Krapp’s Last Tape,” playing through May 16th at Hyde Park Theatre, is a sad and beautiful swansong of days gone by. Actor’s Theatre Austin has paired Beckett’s one-man show with Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” in an evening of theater saturated with the sound of loneliness.
Starring Michael Stuart as Krapp and Erie, respectively, the shows serve as striking counterpoints to the different shapes of isolation.
In “Krapp’s Last Tape,” Stuart’s performance highlights the details of simple gestures, drawing on the space between silences and the language of the body. His nearsighted slowness is captivating, as is the slow unfolding of a single syllable. In the intimate Hyde Park space, we hear the floor creaking underfoot and the weariness in his breathe as he steadily paces across the stage.
Krapp keeps himself company with the echoes of his former self – celebrating his birthday by listening to the sound recordings he made years and years before. It’s a sad and lovely piece of theater, and Stuart gives an exceptional performance on the austere black stage.
His character in “Hughie” stands in sharp contrast, and the juxtaposition of the two shows is initially rather jarring. A blustery gambler fresh off a several day drunk, Erie returns to the hotel he lives in and bombards the new night clerk (Jonathan Urso) with tales of his former glory and reminiscences of the friendly clerk who recently died.
Set in New York in 1928, the language in “Hughie” sounds a bit like the pages of a noir detective novel, and perhaps not a very good one at that. But once we settle into the cadence of Erie’s chatter, we can see the yearning for companionship that underlies all of his empty talk.
Actor Theatre Austin’s production is crisp and unassuming, and Michael Stuart’s performances are lovely to watch. It’s an absolute treat to see the actor take on the Beckett role, and the second act makes for an entertaining, if somewhat less striking, follow up.
Shows continues 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday. Tickets pay-what-you-can. Hyde Park Theatre. 511 .43rd St.