‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ is a light in the darkness of the mind
The expression on Paul Whitworth’s face becomes comically distorted as he desperately searches his brain to find the term for the Japanese art of flower arrangement.
A few moments pass in silence, as his café con leche continues to cool on the table. Suddenly, he’s on his feet and wagging his index finger enthusiastically, “maybe this fellow knows.” In the direction of his pointed finger, Whitworth approaches the table of an old friend. The two warmly greet, but unfortunately, no answers are unearthed. He returns a bit disappointed, when a woman sitting at a neighboring table informs Whitworth that the term he is searching for is “Ikebana.”
“Ikebana!” Whitworth claps his hands in pure enjoyment, the look of intense concentration slowly dissipating from his face.
He is an actor, after all.
“It’s this science of arranging just a few elements, where the sum seems greater than its parts,” he says, in a soothingly lyrical manner.
Whitworth is not only commenting on the strategic adjustment of blossoms. He is also drawing a comparison between that craft and the works of the late postmodern playwright Samuel Beckett, whose creation “Krapp’s Last Tape,” Whitworth will be starring in at Jewel Theatre Company of Santa Cruz.
The production will run June 2 through June 5, and focuses on an aging man, Krapp, who lives a lonely existence in a darkened room. It’s his birthday, and every year on that day he makes a tape recording, but not before listening to one from the past.
Instead of lecturing his colleagues on research as he was asked, the former creative director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz executed the 43-minute play in a full-stage production. Since it was the first time the play was performed in front of an audience, Whitworth says the presentation was the most effective research of all.
“Actors by and large should shut up and act,” he says. “I didn’t want to stand up there and talk about my life as an actor. If I’m asked to talk about my research, I’ll actually do some research.”
While discussing the themes of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” Whitworth explains that during his original direction of the play, Beckett had the actor who played Krapp try on several shoes with different soles. It is this “play of sounds” and meticulousness that Whitworth not only appreciates, but understands and emulates. To anyone who has seen Whitworth perform, it is clear that he is also particular in his craft, always committing himself fully to his roles and being detail oriented.
Though Whitworth describes the often darkly humorous Beckett as “a sort of minimalist,” he voices no objections, as it was Whitworth himself who once devised a one-man show, which consisted of him discussing his portrayals as Hamlet, traveling and performing with only two props: a bible and a real human skull.
Still, Whitworth insists that in this play “the props are very important,” and Beckett is “dictatorial of exactly what he wants on stage,” giving a “strong guiding voice.
“We all know what it’s like to be alone,” Whitworth continues. “Beckett’s plays, in a way, take you to a place that is like where you go when you wake up in the morning and half recall your dreams.” He describes these hazy memories as offering “certain tantalizing clues,” concerning the human condition and leaving the audience to connect these “little dots that seem hugely suggestive of major themes.”
Whitworth describes Center Stage as, “a great space,” for the innovative play. Having been at Shakespeare Santa Cruz for 12 years, Whitworth finally left thinking, “that’s enough.” Since leaving that rewarding but round-the-clock job, the Royal Shakespeare Academy alumnus has dabbled in numerous projects, including teaching a course on Irish literature and performing in a Florida production commemorating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s great discoveries, before coming to Jewel Theatre.
Whitworth shares a previous affiliation to the company, as he and founder Julie James were once in a production of “Damn Yankees” together. Voicing his adoration for his past and present associate, he proclaims “it is a hugely courageous thing that she’s doing. Her desire to bring small-scale professional shows to that space is a fantastic and rare thing. Anything that one can do to help is a good thing.”
He also cites the convenient location of the establishment as a personal benefit as well. “One of the things about acting, which can be exciting but is sometimes disruptive, is that you have to pack your bags and move. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life packing bags and moving to a strange city to do a play which I love.” Yet, the prospect of a “challenging and difficult theatre,” that is 15 minutes away, is simply too good to be true for Whitworth, who adds “I’m very impressed by what [Julie] is trying to do.”
Surely, the joint forces of Whitworth and Jewel Theatre are bound to be impressive, as both seem to share an affinity for those works of art that are less, as Whitworth puts it, “run-of-the-mill.”
“This is a community which responds to real cultural challenges. A lot of interesting people have chosen to live here. They are interested in being challenged artistically.”
Indeed, so is Whitworth. Notably captivated by all notions that are inventive and creative, he above all asserts “the essential thing in telling a story with a live audience is that everyone be involved in one single imaginative moment.”
For more information about “Krapp’s Last Tape,” visit jeweltheatre.net, or call 425-7506. “Krapp’s Last Tape” will be showing at Center Stage, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. June 2-5. Tickets are $28/adults, $23/seniors and students.