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Beckett's Memories

a Classic Collection
by Samuel Beckett

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 1758

SHOWING : September 14, 2006 - October 08, 2006



Two One-Act Plays by Samuel Beckett juxtapose each other on the subject of memory and memory of memory. In "Rockaby," a woman's snatches of memory serenade her to her final sleep, and in "Krapp's Last Tape," memory and memory of memory supercede experience as an old man tries to recapture the joy that exists only in memory. Directed by Beckett acolyte Walter Asmus.

Cast Walter Asmus
Props Heidi Blackwell
Lighting Design Jessica Coale
Sound Design Brian Ginn
Stage Manager Heidi Howard
Costume Design Joanna Schmink
Woman Martha Fehsenfeld
Krapp Del Hamilton
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


What Was I Remembering?
by Dedalus
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
“If keen imagination and logic are stirred together to the point of absurdity, the result is either a paradox or an Irishman.”

This is the way the presentation address of the Nobel Prize committee began when its 1969 prize for Literature was awarded to Samuel Beckett. In the tradition of James Joyce (for whom he worked for a while), Beckett’s life and works embody paradox and absurdity – an Irishman who lived abroad and wrote in French, who wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style that wanted to surreally (or “super-really”) approximate the random images and associations of our moment-to-moment thoughts. And yet, his notes and instructions leave behind a legacy that almost embalms his plays in a strict mode of presentation that leaves little room for re-interpretation by new generations of actors and directors.

This past week, I watched 7 Stages ‘ production of Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape,” a meditation on memory and lost joy, ably performed by Del Hamilton and directed by Beckett acolyte Walter Asmus. To prepare for this essay, I also watched the “Beckett Directs Beckett” Video of this same play. To say they are identical would be a disservice to the skill and efforts (to say nothing of the originality) of Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Asmuth, but, in fact, they did seem to me identical. I didn’t time the pauses in the two productions, but I suspect that would show little statistical difference. It could be argued (and will be argued) that this is Mr. Beckett’s legacy, that he demanded this sort of slavish standards in all his works. Rightly or wrongly, I can’t help but wonder if this, in some way, makes them embalmed museum pieces rather than living works of Theatre.

My first exposure to Beckett was, in fact, “Krapp’s Last Tape,” a touring production featuring Hume Cronym which came to my college in 1974 or 1975. At that time, it was accompanied by another Beckett play, “Not I,” performed by Jessica Tandy. My advisor was friends with the Cronym’s and I got to meet and chat with them afterwards. To say I was blown away by the whole experience would be an understatement. This was a time in which I was at the height of “English Major Pretentiousness” – I was in the midst of a year-long Independent study of Joyce, was just discovering the absurdist works of Ionesco, and found anything that smacked of literary gamesmanship to be the be-all and end-all of praiseworthiness. Add to that two performances that found a core of humanity that appealed to me, and it is no wonder that I’ve found subsequent Beckett performances sterile mind-games. For 7 Stages’ 2004 “Waiting for Godot,” I even tried my own game, a trite Beckett parody that accused the production of reducing its minor characters to constructs filled with meaning but lacking in humanity.

Now, too, I found my initial reaction to “Beckett’s Memories” to be oddly unaffecting. I found myself distancing my reaction from Beckett’s alleged pessismism, and missing the sense of life that was, in retrospect, fully evident on stage. I also found myself on the edge of a too-often doze. Perhaps it was my standard “narcolepsy” excuse, perhaps it was the soporific tone of the opening piece “Rockaby,” a haunting little play-let in which a woman remembers snatches of image and banal phrase as she struggles not to fall into that final sleep. In constrast, thirty years ago, “Not I” was a highly energetic piece that left me primed for more (To digress a moment here, if Beckett is a pessimist as far as human existence goes, “Not I” shows us that he is equally pessimistic about what comes after – a cheerful thought!).

But the odd thing is, as time has moved on, my memories of the “Krapp’s Last Tape,” both then and now, have deepened and become enriched.

Maybe this is the justification for the “Beckett Legacy.” For most playwrights, reinterpretation can show insight that other productions overlook, find new focuses that maybe even the playwright only considered subconsciously. For Beckett though, subconscious is itself the subject matter, and, by “entombing” them in the strictest of performance standards, he recognized that multiple viewings would reveal different images and thoughts and memories because we, the audience, are different every time. Thirty years ago, the 20ish me thrived on language and absurdity and the sense of a life that was opening up. Now, the 50ish me thrives on memory and memory of memory, gets a little too sleepy a little too easily, and is impatient with literary symbols that exist only for the sake of being literary symbols. Which is the better production? A question with no answer, as the productions are, or should be, identical. Which is the better memory? Also a question with no answer, as memory changes with the wind, with the tide, with time, and with circumstance. For the small time-scales of our lives, memory is the stream that shows movement against the fixed-scale of the cosmos. For Beckett, our lives are the stream that reflect movement against the fixed-scale of his plays.

-- Brad Rudy (

After Notes (A few things I’d like to mention that are a bit outside the scope of this essay): I’m a little skeptical of the “Accolyte Syndrome,” that is works, slavishly produced by students who learned at the feet of the “master.” This started, ironically enough, with my James Joyce studies. A guy named Stuart Gilbert published a study guide to “Ulysses” that purported to analyze and decipher all the games Joyce was playing – each chapter had its symbol, its style, even its archetypical color. As I read the guide, it occurred to me that Gilbert provided little or no textual justification for his statements, only the generic “this is the answer because this is what Joyce told me.” For some reason, I had this vision of Joyce sitting back in a Paris pub, downing his ale and coming up with as many absurd notions as possible to tell “that little Gilbert twerp who’s always hanging around.” Knowing nothing about the relationship between Beckett and Mr. Asmus, my first impulse was the think the same thing – I had an image of Mr. Asmus sitting down with the video and timing every pause and gesture. While the results were certainly effective (at least in memory), it does make one wonder. (Another example – seeing “Fosse” with its slavishly recreated dance numbers only left me with a "Been There, Seen That Better” feeling.) My response to the “Acolyte Syndrome?” That’s nice and honors your teacher, but what do YOU have to offer?

Speaking of one aspect of Beckett being acknowledgemnt of what we as audience bring to the game, “Rockaby” with its very dim lighting and monotonous sound left me pondering “afterimages” that I thought I saw all over the very dark stage. Did it have this affect on anyone else? Kudos need to go to lighting designer Jessica Coale, who managed to have focus and balance and “spill” so in control that, as we walked into the theatre, we saw what looked like like a dim chair floating in a sea of black. A Marvelous Image!

Finally, another quote from the Nobel Prize presentation address, this one concerning Beckett’s alleged pessimism: “The crucial point in Beckett’s conception of the world is found … in the difference between a facile pessimism confined within the insensitivities of skepticism and the pessimism that is so painfully earned and that endeavors to meet man in his most unarmored misery. … For what is without worth can never be debased. Proof of the degradation of man … does not exist if one denies all value to man.” (Address by Karl Ragnar Gierow). Yes, her life may be banal and pained, but it still had enough worth for the woman in “Rockaby” to continually call for “more” until calling itself was only a memory.
Your not getting older.... by line!
Seems to me that you still have the “English Major Pretentiousness” of a twenty year old! But we love you just the same (only from a safe distance of course);)
Great Scott! by Dedalus
Trust you to find that irony. I put it there on purpose (yeah, Right!).
-- Brad

By the way, your title should have read "YOU'RE not getting ..." (but I digress).
Damn you and your pretentious correctness! by line!
You're not getting older, but I am!


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