Theater review: ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ and ‘The Zoo Story’ by The Sublime Theater

PICTURES OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN: Steven Samuels plays a character reliving his youth through recordings in 'Krapp's Last Tape,' one of two absurdist plays staged by The Sublime Theater. Photo courtesy of The Sublime Theater

For its second outing, the new Sublime Theater reaches back to two masterworks of the last century: Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. This pairing of one-acts from the post-World War II era of what was known as absurdist theater was often presented to create a full evening. The Sublime Theater re-creates that classic combo at The BeBe Theatre for a run that extends through Saturday, March 23.

Presented first, Krapp’s Last Tape stars Steven Samuels in a deftly precise and emotionally riveting piece of theatrical art. Samuels is the titular character and spends a great deal of the show in silence, shuffling about, eating bananas and assembling tin boxes of reel-to-reel tapes. He plays a particular tape on an old recorder. Krapp is a world-weary, aging man who is living out the mundane final stage of his life. He both revels in and is repulsed by recordings of his experiences made at various points in the past.

We can’t take our eyes off Samuels, who inhabits the character fully. It’s as if the audience members are voyeurs witnessing the slow decay of a person. Alternately funny and touching, the show is dark and delves into deeply uncomfortable parts of the human psyche.

The Zoo Story follows with Art Moore, as Peter, reading a book on a lonely bench. Scott Fisher’s wiry and wily character Jerry arrives and engages Peter by teasing him with the promise of a story about something Jerry just witnessed at the zoo.

What follows is a peculiar conversation with two men who are clearly polar opposites. Jerry lives in a seedy and crowded townhouse, while Peter lives with his wife, kids, cats and parakeets in a decidedly middle-class apartment. Peter is reserved and refined. Jerry is gregarious and uncouth. There is a sense of danger as well. Jerry has an unsettling and unpredictable quality that keeps the audience uneasy.

Things spiral into a confrontation that brings both characters to more animalistic behavior toward one another.

Moore is great as the sweetly charming Peter, who just wants to be left alone to read his book. Fisher brings an easy smile and light touch to Jerry but can also flip instantly to anger and unpredictability.

Director Henry Williamson gives us theater that is as entertaining as it is smart. His love for these classic works shows. He’s a precise director with a keen understanding of how to elicit the best work from his actors while holding an audience in anticipation of every word and gesture.

WHAT: The Sublime Theater presents Krapp’s Last Tape and The Zoo Story
WHERE: The BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St., thesublimetheater.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, March 23, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., $15

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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