From March 9 to 12, the St. Olaf theater department will put on a double-feature, “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Rockaby” by Samuel Beckett.
The one act plays were written at different points in Beckett’s life. “Krapp’s Last Tape” was written very early in Beckett’s career and is one of his warmest and most human works, while “Rockaby” was written at the very end of Beckett’s life and is a highly stylized, image-based work.
“Krapp’s Last Tape” follows a 69-year-old man named Krapp celebrating his birthday by listening to a recording he made 30 years ago on his now-antiquated tape recorder. The audience watches Krapp relive his past experiences and finally makes a new recording to comment on his last 12 months. “Rockaby” shows an old woman in an ornate evening gown who sits still in her rocking chair and listens to a dulcet recording of her own voice telling the story of her life.
These one acts are an interesting choice. They are usually not performed by professional theater companies because most audiences are unfamiliar with many of Beckett’s plays. It is an especially creative choice for the St. Olaf theater department when juxtaposed with the department’s most recent show, “Sister Act,” one of the most recognizable musicals in the United States.
The one acts were chosen by director Joanna McLarnan ’17. McLarnan applied last spring for the Spring Haugen directing position, a slot reserved for a senior theater major to put on a show of their choice as part of the theater department’s annual season.
McLarnan first read “Krapp’s Last Tape” as a fifth grader and said it surprised her, showing her that “this is what theater could be.” When it came to choosing another show to pair with it, “Rockaby” seemed to fit.
“The pieces put together feel like they have this really nice arc to them. Even though they don’t tell the same story, they seem to flow together to me,” McLarnan said.
The connection between the two shows is clear thematically as the audience observes these fleshed out characters struggling to understand themselves and coming to terms with their own mortality.
The production begins with Krapp, a “strange and misanthropic” old man, according to McLarnan, who we come to love throughout the course of the show.
“When you spend an hour with that person and you’re just watching them live their life, you kind of have to feel something for them,” McLarnan said.
Then, we are introduced to the old woman in “Rockaby” and we watch her accept her own isolation and mortality as her own voice rocks her to stillness.
Stephen Oberhardt ’19 takes on the role of Krapp and was challenged by the idea of trying to capture an audience’s attention with almost no action onstage.
“Doing nothing onstage, while having no action, and no words for any number of long pauses throughout the play, is something I’m totally unfamiliar with so trying to make that interesting was a nice challenge,” Oberhardt said.
The role of the old woman in “Rockaby” is portrayed by Jacqueline Radke ’18 who was surprised by how much she connected with her character throughout the rehearsal process.
“On a base level she seems emotionless but she really breaks my heart now,” Radke said.
This production will definitely stray from what may be typically expected from a theatrical experience, and McLarnan encourages that.
“I hope that people can put down their preconceptions of what they’re coming to the theater to see and sort of roll with it for an hour and a half,” McLarnan said.
She and her two actors are also excited for the conversations that can come out of these performances. They certainly do not expect audiences to leave with a complete understanding of what they just watched.
“I hope the audience has the experience to think about some things and then leave and not really come to a definitive conclusion,” McLarnan said.
“I’m kind of excited for people to hate it, if they do. I’m excited for people to fall asleep during it or be completely confused by it,” Oberhardt said.
“I hope audiences leave thinking deeply but feeling emotionally secure,” Radke said.
McLarnan wanted to create a “whole experience” where audience members “feel cared for.” This begins with strings of Christmas lights which warmly welcome audiences into the intimate setting of the Ralph Haugen black box theater and continues after each performance with live music and cookies.
“Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Rockaby” open on Thursday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. and run for one weekend. Tickets are available online or in the box office in the Theater Building and are free for students.