Fruit Force: Krapp regards his slip-ups with disdain.

Sign up for our free newsletter

If you regard Samuel Beckett as a writer who hung his shingle on the intellectual, emotionless plane of abstract ideas, you’re not alone. You’re, you know, wrong, but you’re not alone. Feathery abstraction isn’t what Beckett does, it’s what people who write about him do—the kind of people who insist, for example, that his one-act Krapp’s Last Tape is “a play about memory.” Pfft. Krapp’s Last Tape isn’t about memory, it’s about memories: A handful of one old man’s highly specific memories, each one hard-wired with a different, shattering emotion. But then that’s kind of Beckett’s point, or one of ’em: We humans tend to take comfort in the distance of intellectual abstraction, even though we function in the realm of the specific—we’ll pontificate about memory when we really mean memories in the same way that we’ll talk about food when what we eat are meals. And Beckett had an unerring eye for the particular. It’s worth the hike out to Takoma Park to catch Spooky Action Theater’s production of two Beckett shorts, Krapp and Ohio Impromptu, to get a fresh reminder that all those long theatrical silences for which he’s known (and parodied) are actually filled with all manner of stuff—specific, grounded, achingly human stuff. Carter Jahncke’s face comes alive as his 69-year old Krapp listens to a tape of his pompous younger self, blithely recording his dreams and disappointments for posterity. In fact, Jahncke’s one of the more animated Krapps (heh) I’ve ever seen—he doesn’t so much wander the dark stage as prowl it, he sighs with sybaritic relish as he successfully threads his reel-to-reel, gets well and truly gobsmacked upon listening to a description of a beautiful woman he’s long since forgotten, and dismisses his younger self’s spiritual dabbling with unalloyed rage. “Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for 30 years ago!” he shouts into the microphone. (Krapp tapes himself every year, see.) If Jahncke lets himself get a bit too broad with the vaudevillian stuff—all that business with the bananas—he’s got a firm grasp on just how painful it is for Krapp to put himself through this rite of self-lacerating narcissism every year. By presenting Krapp alongside the much later (and more mysterious) Ohio Impromptu, director Richard Henrich has hit on something: Turns out these two plays have a lot to say to one another. I won’t disclose too much about Ohio Impromptu here (a big part of the playlet’s fun lies in figuring out just what the hell is going on) but I can say that it echoes Krapp in an almost-but-not-quite literal way: In both works, a simple percussive sound (in Krapp, the heavy clunk of a rewind button, in Ohio, the rap of knuckles against wood) gradually takes on downright sorrowful aspect. Exactly why that’s so isn’t easy to explain, but you’ll have a nice ride back to the city trying to do so.