There’s one thing I find really frustrating about Michael Laurence’s otherwise touching and intelligent play. There’s a moment at the end where, after an hour of presenting himself through diary entries, phone conversations, and preparing for the grand finale of the speech from Krapp’s Last Tape, he realises he can’t get the rights, so is unable to perform and record this monologue he’d planned – just like Krapp. It’s a poignant moment that summarises the sentiment of play: we can’t sculpt the future, we can’t change the past. As his friend tells him over the phone, the only thing we own is the present.
And so, in the final moments of the play, Laurence finds himself inexplicably in the present, in front of the audience with no plan as to what will happen next. But nothing happens. Nothing. That’s the frustrating part. And maybe that’s the point, but I really think he misses a trick here. After an hour of reflecting, internalising, sitting and speaking into a microphone (not that it wasn’t absorbing and beautifully done – it was) this final moment of the play could have been a really immediate and striking one. I wanted him to stand, to look at the audience (who he refers to at the start, but never directly addresses) and to do something which surprises us. Something which reminds us that all we have is the present. Something which rouses and shakes us into immediacy and action, which turns the show on its head after an hour of lethargy spent sitting in a dark room listening to Laurence’s soft dulcet tones.
Without this added layer – the final moment of action – Krapp 39 remains the slightly self-indulgent and ‘clever’ play it was always in danger of being. It’s an entertaining piece – often funny and touching, with a beautiful poetical script and a very smart homage to Krapp’s Last Tape. But it’s also a play in which a white American male talks about his problematic life – a string of unsuccessful relationships and acting gigs – and it doesn’t really lead us anywhere surprising. The play has been in performance for a few years now, and Laurence’s delivery seems a little too well-polished but dull. It’s lacking a real urgency or theatricality, and in its present form would work just as well as radio drama.
Despite it being a clever and well-crafted script, the lack of resolve left me itching and unsatisfied. Maybe that was the point.