REVIEW: Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape (Goodman Theatre)

Masterful production suffers from too large of performance space


Goodman Theatre presents:

Hughie / Krapp’s Last Tape

by Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill
directed by
Robert Falls and Jennifer Tarver
through February 28th (more info)

review by Barry Eitel

Hughie_06Hughie and Krapp’s Last Tape are the results of two Nobel Prize winning playwrights exploring the idea of loneliness. Both works dive headfirst into aching, despondent, cringe-worthy isolation—not sexy loneliness or quirky loneliness, but the brand of depressing loneliness caused by years of self-inflicted solitude. Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill, neither of whom is known for their sunny view of life, are masters in illustrating this theme in their plays. Pairing up the American O’Neill and the Irish Beckett was a bold decision, but the Goodman’s choice to put these plays together makes a lot of sense. Especially when you add to the mix adept directors Robert Falls and Jennifer Tarver and have the two plays carried by one Brian Dennehy. The finished product steals the breath away from the audience by the end, like if we had just witnessed a star implode on itself.

Although both plays could conceivably be described as one-man shows, they are both actually powerful, two-person dialogues. Hughie takes place long after midnight in a fleabag hotel lobby. The hotel’s night clerk (Joe Grifasi) stands alone behind the counter. Enter the drunken Erie Smith (Dennehy). Although the conversation is decidedly one-sided, the night clerk’s presence is essential to Erie’s booze-fueled tirade. Krapp’s Last Tape is a one-person show, but the sole character, also soaking in alcohol, is still having a dialogue. Instead of chatting with another flesh and blood human, Krapp (Dennehy again) interacts with himself, 30 years earlier, through an ancient tape player. Having the characters discourse with someone does the opposite of brightening the situation; the exchanges highlight the fact that these characters are completely starved for an authentic human connection. These plays are definitely not for the easily disturbed. After viewing, some bourbon and Prozac might be necessary to help you fall asleep.

Hughie_05 Krapps_01

Hughie, arguably the weaker of the two, is more plugged in to the real world. It’s fascinating to watch Dennehy rattle off stories of past friends, female conquests, and gambling victories. He mostly rambles about his only confidant in recent memory, the former night clerk, Hughie. Falls’ staging is brilliant. He is able to create viable stage pictures with only one moving actor, yet the production never feels unmotivated or scattershot. Grifasi is spot-on as the spaced-out clerk. Dennehy owns his role, layering bravado and self-assurance on top of Erie’s agonizing stabs at companionship.

Beckett is a much different writer than O’Neill, and requires a distinct approach in all aspects. Dennehy’s Krapp is a 180-turn from Erie. He’s a clown—a very lonely clown that let the opportunities of relationships slip by years ago. This production, directed by Canadian impKrapps_06ort Tarver, snaps together. Every second on stage is fraught with purpose. Dennehy’s dealings with a banana, his tape player, or his door are all significant. It also contains one of the most genius directing choices of this entire theatre season. Whenever Krapp leaves the main room to fetch a drink, he leaves the door open. The only movement on stage is the swinging light pull. There is something so Beckett, so existential, about that moment.

Hughie tends to drag a bit and the powerful silences of Krapp’s Last Tape are often interrupted by coughs and shifting, which is more of a comment on the audience than the production. The Albert stage seems a bit large for these plays. The size works for capturing the crushing, Atlas-scale solitude, but the anguished details are occasionally lost in the abyss. Still, the double-bill is remarkable. Nothing is overblown or glossed over; all aspects of both productions are painstakingly devised. Even the show is just over 90 minutes, you’ll have plenty of fodder for hours of therapy.


Rating: ★★★



The Design Team for Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape includes Eugene Lee (Sets), Patrick Clark (Costumes), Robert Thomson (Lights) and Richard Woodbury (Sound). Joseph Drummond is the Production Stage Manager, and T. Paul Lynch is the Stage Manager.  All photography by Liz Lauren.

Additional information regarding actors and directors

Brian Dennehy and Robert Falls – Collaborations over Twenty–five years

In 1985, Dennehy appeared in Cocoon and Silverado, two films that affirmed his status as one of Hollywood’s leading character actors. That same year (the 1985/1986 theater season) Dennehy also made his Chicago stage debut in the role of a menacing interrogator in Ron Hutchinson’s Rat in the Skull—a gritty psychological thriller set in a London police station during the height of "the troubles" between England and Northern Ireland—at Wisdom Bridge Theatre, where Falls was artistic director. When Falls became artistic director of Goodman Theatre, he signaled a muscular new direction for the Goodman by opening the 1986/1987 season with a production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo (retitled Galileo). To play the role of Brecht’s titular character, Falls knew that he needed an exceptional actor whose talent and stage presence would match the immense physical, emotional and intellectual demands of the role. On September 26, 1986, Dennehy made his Goodman debut as Italian natural philosopher Galileo Galilei—and launched one of the great and enduring actor/director partnerships in the American theater.

Falls and Dennehy teamed up again in 1990 to tackle one of Eugene O’Neill’s masterworks, The Iceman Cometh. Dennehy’s towering performance as Theodore "Hickey" Hickman, the quintessential purveyor and slayer of pipe dreams, earned rave reviews and the show was named by Time magazine as one the American theater season’s "ten best." The revival production at the Abbey Theatre was hailed as the highpoint of the 33rd annual Dublin Theatre Festival. Over the next two decades Dennehy returned to Chicago to collaborate with Falls on Arthur Miller’s Death of Salesman (1998) and O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet (1996); Long Day’s Journey into Night (2002), Hughie (2004) and Desire Under the Elms (2009). Subsequent Broadway productions of Death of a Salesman and Long Day’s Journey into Night were honored with multiple Tony Awards, and Dennehy also received the Laurence Olivier Award for his performance in the London revival of Death of a Salesman.


Brian Dennehy (Erie/Krapp)‘s credits at other theaters include Richard Nelson’s Conversations in Tusculum at the Public Theater, Trumbo at Westside Theatre, The Cherry Orchard at Brooklyn Academy of Music and Says I, Says He at Phoenix Theatre, all off-Broadway. Regional credits include All’s Well That Ends Well, Hughie and Krapp’s Last Tape at Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario; The Exonerated (New York tour/Chicago/Boston/Washington, D.C.) and Says I, Says He at Mark Taper Forum; and Rat in the Skull at Wisdom Bridge Theatre. He appeared in Death of a Salesman (Olivier Best Actor Statue, 2005) in London’s West End. Feature films include The Next Three Days, Alleged, Every Day, Miss January, Righteous Kill, War Eagle, Welcome to Paradise, Ratatouille, The Ultimate Gift, Everyone’s Hero, 10th & Wolf, Assault on Precinct 13, Stolen Summer, Summer Catch, The Warden, Virtuoso, Tommy Boy, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, Presumed Innocent, F/X 2, Seven Minutes, Gladiator, Best Seller, The Last of the Finest, The Belly of an Architect (Best Actor Chicago Film Festival), F/X, Cocoon, Silverado, Twice in a Lifetime, Gorky Park, Legal Eagles, Deep River, 10, Butch and Sundance: The Early Years, Little Miss Marker, Finders, Keepers, Foul Play, F.I.S.T. and Semi-Tough. Television film credits include Bunker Hill (TNT pilot), Rules of Engagement (CBS), Our Fathers (Showtime, Emmy Award nomination Best Supporting Actor), The Exonerated (Court TV), Behind the Camera: Three’s Company (NBC), The Crooked E (ABC), A Season on the Brink (ESPN), Three Blind Mice (CBS), Death of a Salesman (Showtime, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy Award nomination as Best Actor), Thanks to a Grateful Nation (Showtime), The Warden (Showtime), Sirens (Showtime), The Doris Duke Story (CBS), Like Father Like Son (CBS), Jack Reed: Death and Vengeance (NBC), Undue Influence (CBS), A Season in Purgatory (NBC), Dead Man’s Walk (ABC), Jack Reed: A Killer Amongst Us (NBC), Burden of Proof (ABC, Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor), In Broad Daylight (CBS), Shadow of a Doubt (NBC), Jack Reed: A Search For Justice (NBC), The Terrorist (ABC), Jack Reed: An Honest Cop (NBC), To Catch a Killer (The John Wayne Gacy Story) (Tribune, Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor), Murder in the Heartland (ABC, Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor), Nostromo (BBC), Foreign Affairs (TNT, Cable Ace Award Best Actor), Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story (HBO), The Last Place on Earth (BBC), A Killing in a Small Town (CBS, Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor), Day One (ABC), Rising Son (TNT), Perfect Witness (HBO, Cable Ace Award nomination Best Actor), Prophet of Evil (CBS), A Rumor of War (ABC), Shattered Vows (NBC), Final Appeal (NBC), Acceptable Risks (CBS) and Jericho Mile (ABC).

Joe Grifasi (Night Clerk)‘s Broadway credits include Dinner at Eight, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, A Memory of Two Mondays, Boy Meets Girl, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The 1940’s Radio Hour and Happy End. His off-Broadway credits include Conversations at Tusculum, The Boys Next Door (Drama Desk Nomination), Once Around the City, Golden Boy, Filumena and Says I Says He. His regional credits include Hughie at Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Trinity Repertory Company, My Fair Lady at New York Philharmonic, Privates on Parade at Long Wharf Theatre, Once in a Lifetime at Williamstown Theater Festival and Suicide in B Flat and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Yale Repertory Theatre. His directing credits include A Slight Hitch by Lewis Black and Cup of Coffee at Yale Repertory Theatre, Triangles for Two and Heaven Can Wait at Westport Country Playhouse, The Frugal Repast at Abingdon Theatre Company and Max Frisch’s Firebugs at Colleagues Theater Company. Grifasi has appeared in more than 50 feature films including Presumed Innocent, The Deer Hunter, Big Business, Beaches, Auto Focus, Matewan, Naked Gun, Dark Matter, Natural Born Killers, Chances Are, Changing Lanes, One Fine Day, F/X, Benny & Joon, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Brewster’s Millions, Batman Forever, The Flamingo Kid, Ironweed and Splash. His television credits include The Bronx is Burning (as Yogi Berra), 61* (as Phil Rizzuto), Law & Order, ER, LA Law, Chicago Hope, Hill Street Blues, SCTV, Rosanne and The Practice. He received an MFA in acting from the Yale School of Drama.

Robert Falls (Director, Hughie) has been the artistic director of Goodman Theatre since 1986. From 1977 to 1985, he was the artistic director of Wisdom Bridge Theatre. Most recently, he revived his critically acclaimed 2006 Goodman production of King Lear for Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he directed Desire Under the Elms at the Goodman and on Broadway and curated A Global Exploration: Eugene O’Neill in the 21st Century at the Goodman. In Spring 2010, he will direct the world premiere of Rebecca Gilman’s Goodman commission, A True History of the Johnstown Flood, in the Albert Theatre. Falls also directed the Broadway revival of American Buffalo, Hughie for Long Wharf Theatre and Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Shining City for the Goodman and Huntington Theatre Company, the Tony Award-nominated Broadway revival of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio, the world premiere of Richard Nelson’s Frank’s Home for the Goodman and Playwrights Horizons, the Tony Award-nominated American premiere of Shining City on Broadway, A Life in the Theatre for the Goodman and the London revival of Death of a Salesman. His production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida for Walt Disney Theatricals ran on Broadway for four years, and toured nationally and abroad. Two of his most highly acclaimed Broadway productions, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (first staged at the Goodman) were honored with seven Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards. Previous Goodman credits include the world premieres of Arthur Miller’s Finishing the Picture, Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge and Dollhouse, Eric Bogosian’s Griller, Louis Rosen and Thom Bishop’s Book of the Night, Steve Tesich’s The Speed of Darkness and On the Open Road and John Logan’s Riverview: A Melodrama with Music; the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden; the Midwest premieres of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero and Edward Albee’s The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?; as well as Galileo, The Iceman Cometh, A Touch of the Poet, Three Sisters, The Night of the Iguana, Landscape of the Body, The Misanthrope, Pal Joey and The Tempest. Elsewhere, Falls has directed Blue Surge at Joseph Papp Public Theater, Horton Foote’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man from Atlanta on Broadway (Tony Award-nominated transfer from the Goodman), the world premiere of Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia at Lincoln Center Theater (Obie Award for Best Director), The Rose Tattoo for Circle in the Square (Tony Award-nominated), The Iceman Cometh at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, On the Open Road at Joseph Papp Public Theater, The Night of the Iguana at Roundabout Theatre and The Food Chain at Westside Theatre, as well as productions for Guthrie Theater, Remains Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Metropolitan Opera and Grande Théatre de Genéve.

Jennifer Tarver (Director, Krapp’s Last Tape) has been directing theater and opera for 15 years. She recently made her Stratford Shakespeare Festival debut directing Brian Dennehy in Krapp’s Last Tape to resounding critical acclaim. Originally from New York, she is based in Toronto and works internationally. Her Canadian honors include best director 2007 from Now Magazine, the 2006 Pauline McGibbon Award in Directing and the 2002 John Hirsch Directors Award. Her company’s 2006 work That Time—Five Beckett Shorts garnered eight Dora Award nominations and four wins, including best director and best production. In 2007, Tarver directed the Canadian premieres of Sarah Kane’s Crave at Nightwood Theatre and Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) at Tarragon Theatre. A passion for classic texts as well as cutting-edge contemporary work defines her career. Tarver creates and directs her own work through her production company Theatre Extasis (currently in development is her adaptation of Calderón’s Life is a Dream). She is also the Associate Director at The Theatre Centre in Toronto leading their new work development program. Other directing credits include: Zastrozzi at Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Canada; Ines, a contemporary Fado opera at Queen of Puddings Music Theatre; Bashir Lazhar and The Fall at Tarragon Theatre, Toronto; Pinter’s The Dwarfs and Will Eno’s The Flu Season at Ryerson University; her own works Not Faust and History Play at Theatre Extasis; and She’s Gone Away, a solo dance theater piece at The Theatre Centre/Hum. Other opera credits include The Rape of Lucretia at University of Toronto and L’Enfant e les Sortilèges, The Magic Flute, The Turn of the Screw and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Royal Conservatory of Music.

One Response

  1. Dennehy is overrated.

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