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Beckett's Krapp’s Last Tape at First Congo

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What started as an obscure joke on Facebook has turned into a rare treat for Memphis theatergoers and fans of actor/director Tony Isbell.

Isbell created a lively Facebook discussion when he posted a status update saying, "I've just eaten, I regret to say, three donuts and have only with difficulty refrained from a fourth." Some commenters liked donuts. Others liked them a lot. But Isbell wasn't really casting about for snack affirmation. He was dropping a nerdy hint to fans of absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett.

Actor Adam Remsen, who'd been directed by Isbell in productions of Glengarry Glen Ross and Six Degrees of Separation, recognized the allusion and answered, "Oh Krapp." A conversation started that has resulted in an independently mounted production of Beckett's mini-masterpiece Krapp's Last Tape.

Tony Isbell as Beckett’s Krapp
  • Tony Isbell as Beckett’s Krapp

"It's like one man's entire life in 40 minutes," says Isbell of a play that finds its elderly title character listening to a tape of his somewhat younger self talking about an even earlier tape of his much younger self. It's not quite 60 years old and maybe even more relevant thanks to Instagram and Facebook.

"When people think of Beckett, they think of Waiting for Godot," Isbell says. "They think of abstract characters dealing with huge issues. But this play is the most naturalistic thing he ever wrote. It's exactly what it is: An old man sitting at his tape recorder listening to old tapes of himself and making a new one. It happens in real time. That's it."

Remsen shares directing duties with Isbell and joins him onstage for a production of Ohio Impromptu, another rarely seen Beckett sketch with similarly nostalgic threads.

"I'm not really doing that much directing," Remsen says. "For me, the best part of the process has been getting to watch Tony Isbell perform Krapp's Last Tape three or four times a week."

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