Cluchey-Beckett teamwork shown on stage

Krapp's Last Tape Play by Samuel Beckett. Directed by the author. Rick Cluchey has come to New York with his acclaimed performance of the title role in ``Krapp's Last Tape,'' by Samuel Beckett.

If only because it was directed by the author, the revival at the Samuel Beckett Theatre would stand as the definitive production of this searching exercise in retrospection by tape recorder.

But there are added aspects to the unique collaboration and its development.

Mr. Cluchey began working on Beckett's plays while serving a life sentence in San Quentin Prison, where he co-founded the San Quentin Drama Workshop.

Paroled in 1967 and subsequently pardoned, the actor continued the artistic relationship with Beckett to the point at which he became a prot'eg'e of the Nobel dramatist.

The remarkable performance on Theatre Row is the latest flowering of the Beckett-Cluchey friendship.

As ``Krapp's Last Tape'' opens, a solitary ``wearish old man'' sits staring silently into space. Then, for a brief moment, the impish side of Beckett takes over.

Krapp meticulously peels and then consumes half a banana, tosses the skin onto the stage, and predictably slips on it. A gag in an honorable tradition almost, though not quite, repeated.

But the moment passes. Comical as it is from time to time, ``Krapp's Last Tape'' is at heart a wry, bleak, and sometimes poignant remembrance of certain things long past.

``Farewell to --- love,'' snaps Krapp impatiently as he slams shut the dusty ledger that once served him as a journal along with the recordings.

The journal jogs memories. The reminiscences themselves are locked in the cans of tapes from which the forlorn oldster selects the one that serves as the second ``character'' in the memory play.

Mr. Cluchey exemplifies the actor's art of listening as Krapp feeds his tapes into the primitive machine, reverses a spool for an occasional replay, and adds verbal postscripts. His reactions range from fury to quiet contemplation, from occasional bursts of laughter to a residual melancholy. Dressed in a worn, red dressing gown, Krapp shuffles rather than walks -- though his shuffling can be spry enough.

At one point, in the nocturnal playback, he inadvertently strikes the hanging lamp that sheds a pool of light on the table at which he is seated. The lamp continues swinging back and forth for long seconds, creating a tension that subsides only gradually.

Like the banana consumption at the beginning of the play, the lamp business reflects the kind of attention director Beckett devotes to the physical details as well as to the poetic and psychological aspects of ``Krapp's Last Tape.''

Presented without an accompanying work, the long one-act play may seem a slight evening's entertainment.

But as the distillation of a human experience, treated with minute observation and unsentimental compassion, this is a notable piece of collaborative playmaking.

Nor should one neglect to mention the indispensable contribution of Bud Thorpe, who, in addition to designing the set and lighting, receives due program credit as sound operator.

Teresita Garcia Suro created Krapp's scruffy wardrobe.

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