CORRECTION: The original post stated Daina Michelle Griffith’s monologue was pre-recorded when it was actually performed live backstage.
Tact Theater’s double-feature of Beckett’s Not I and Krapp’s Last Tape is a talented and evocative portrayal. This is a 90-minute test of your patience and ability to look in your soul and see the damned hopeless of it all and wonder, what makes the rambling of a mad person’s motivation? Or better: Who? You? Both plays are very patience-trying, which stand out in their ability to be jarring, yet successful. They are speaking to themselves, but you are very much part of them.
Not I is the redundant rant of a woman’s mouth, just her mouth. Agitated, furious and quick. It is a stream of conscious trying to upend its own madness: what ? … who? … no! … SHE! … Think of the spiral of questions that leaps from the crooked cookie-crumb trail, an answer like Sisyphus’ stone on the horizon:
all dead still but for the buzzing … when suddenly she realized … words were — what ? … who? … no! … SHE! … realized … words were coming … imagine! Words were coming … a voice she did not recognize … at first … so long since it had sounded…, then finally had to admit … could be none other … than her own
Daina Michelle Griffith is the sole actor in Not I. The monologue whips with quick questions and mood changes, redundant and insane. The play demands only a mouth, and so it is projected on a large screen which takes up the entire stage. It’s a huge mouth, therefore. The monologue is confusing. Her stammer is specific. It hits like meter; clear pronunciation. Her words come off in a frustration relating a betrayed existence, loveless and exploitative. There is no crescendo but rather a consistent roll of scary mantra, a woman finding and identifying her demon: the SHE!
What a mouth can do! The play is agitated, enraged, confused and introspective. It comes from Griffith’s pacing, the silence, the black lipstick leeching onto the teeth and then off of it from clenched lips and her screaming. She screams when the words come to screaming. And oh how menacing are these screams!
This play brought me closer to a madness I’d rather be without. And yet, it’s an inspiration to be scared simply from a talking mouth. It’s clear that the woman’s face is a distraction. Why judge the rollercoaster of dread that is emitted from the mouth by comparing it to the Griffith’s face? No, the isolation of the mouth makes her words the surreal character dispossessed from the body. The haunting control of Being is not about ephemeral amenities like Beauty, it’s about isolating the question of “control.” Her fact-finding mission which keeps losing its place resulting in frustration, horror and recovery:
… just all part of the same wish to … torment … though actually in point of fact … not in the least … not a twinge … so far … ha! … so far … this other thought then … oh long after … sudden flash … very foolish really but so like her … in a way … that she might do well to … groan … on and off … writhe she could not … as if actual agony … but could not … could not bring herself.
I’ve seen this mouth before. The schizophrenic on the street corner rambling in a conversation with no one, trying to unearth an answer to a question that seems indecipherable. This is a chance to listen to that hunt. There is much beauty in that madness, and it is horrible. But here you can watch it dead-on, without fear! Like watching a train heading straight towards you on the big screen! It’s quite riveting to look into the abyss and then get to write a review about it.
It delivers in the way director Connor Bahr conceived; a giant screen of the monologue is still a jarring production that clips your easiness about being sedate in your seat. It’s haunting to watch this giant mouth, furious and afraid.
Similarly Krapp’s Last Tape deals with an existential dread but within a quieter context. Lights up on a man alone at a desk, staring uncomprehendingly at the wall (the audience). He is obviously lost in thought. You can take for granted that this old man might be at the tail end of his life by the title of the play. And you get to be the fly on the wall, watching him slowly leave grip of his ego falling towards the quite pointless drift into ether.
This is a question of aging. What is the relevance of a legacy? There is a lot of doubt about confidence when the older, wiser you confronts the affirmation of its former convictions. Failed loves, failed books. A failed identity. So we get to see the frustration again, the loss of confidence as almost a self-satire. You are literally watching an old man listening to a taped recording of himself speaking authoritatively about his experiences and truth, and then doubting these carefully crafted recordings as his swan song attempt to understand what he was getting at.
What people do not take for granted with Beckett is how funny his plays actually are. It is humorous to conquest the ego. To poke fun at someone’s conviction is to point out the frivolous urge to be something. The bulk of this play is dominated by Krapp’s silence and reaction, augmented by the actor’s slow movement as an old man. Similar to Not I, he only visits his thoughts in fragments. Do we actually understand what exactly he is talking about? It’s not necessary. The essence is understanding his journey to reconcile with his failure.
Martin Giles does a sweeping job of bringing the humor and the wonder into this old man’s perspective. It is embarrassing to look back on your former self. And then when a literary, verbose philosopher recounts his foolishness; the criticism is done with a certain amount of panache.
Giles is a brilliant actor. He is Krapp, pure and utter Krapp. I mean, he is a very convincing old man. He has a terrific handle on Beckett. I saw him in PICT’s Waiting for Godot in 2014. Beckett can be esoteric and drifty, but Giles finds the character so well. His delivery takes the word and can mop the stage. An old man with crust for a vernacular. There is age in every movement. The body is a character, hunched over and walking glacially from destination to destination while the audience waits is appropriately cruel. To watch this old man eat a banana, it is visceral. He is old, old-old. He is about there, as death goes. And yet we are watching attentively hoping for the truth that comes as a souvenir with theater. How ironic! That’s what he’s looking for too! Giles does a great job of captivating the audience with the old man who looks beyond sadness and emits mostly pretentious disappointment. He’s just mad at himself. What a startling portrayal of madness, to be at death’s door and be mostly judgmental. What a curse!
Beckett is dreary and tragic, but as textbook Irish literature goes, there is no such thing as tragedy without a lovely and brackish dark humor. These plays are convoluted investigations into the drive of the self and the blame that comes with being estranged from meaning. They are beautiful, telling and sincere; though they do come off as intimidating puzzles. Highly recommended for those caught in introspection or into brooding dark existential humor. And for the egotistical philosophers who believe their words mean something. And for children! Why not? They gotta learn sometime.
Special thanks to the Tact Theater for complimentary press tickets. Krapp’s Last Tape and Not I continue at the New Hazlett Theatre through July 9, for tickets click here. Would you like to see more articles and reviews from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!