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Theater Review - Krapptastic

Beckett's Memories at 7 Stages

We're all going to age, decline and die — if we're lucky. So much of our culture focuses on youth and the business of work and family that the inevitability of life's end goes almost completely ignored. Part of the reason playwright Samuel Beckett still deserves attention is his willingness to voice such unpleasant but universal truths, even though he expresses them in as few words as possible.

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For Beckett's Memories at 7 Stages, director Walter Asmus, a Beckett protégé, presents definitive interpretations of two of Beckett's works, and the writer's trademark silences have seldom sounded so eloquent, although they can try an audience's patience.

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Virtually nothing "happens" in "Rockaby," which finds a dying old woman (Marty Fehsenfeld) in a dimly lit rocking chair. Her thoughts, in voice-over, go in stream-of-consciousness circles to create an uncomfortably intimate portrayal of a life gradually grinding to a halt. "Rockaby" gradually draws you in with its repetitions, the sound of the rocking chair, the way Fehsenfeld's face moves in and out of the pool light, until the short play feels like a feat of hypnotism. (I checked to make sure I still had my wallet when it was over.)

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Beckett's famous one-act "Krapp's Last Tape" has reached almost 50 years of age, and time has only enhanced the play. Elderly, impoverished Krapp (7 Stages' artistic director Del Hamilton) contemplates his annual tradition of recording his impressions of the past year as a keepsake. In an age of iPods, Krapp's ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder comes across as even more antique and obsolete — more "Beckett-like" — than when the play was young.

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"Krapp's Last Tape" captures the isolation of age, fading faculties and misguided decisions. Krapp struggles to think of anything worth mentioning from recent days, recoils at the sound of his passionate, pompous younger self and broods almost exclusively on one afternoon's tryst with a former love. The play blurs the distinction between nursing a pleasant memory and picking a mental scab.

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Hamilton avoids playing the role for sentiment and invites humor at Krapp's expense, from puzzling over the vocabulary in one of his earlier tapes to nearly slipping on a banana peel. Overall, Beckett's Memories play like cautionary tales that prepare us for facing "the close of a long day," as the old woman in "Rockaby" puts it. When we're in our twilight years, any of us could end up feeling like Krapp if we're not careful.

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Beckett's Memories. 7 Stages. Through Oct. 8. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. 1105 Euclid Ave. $20-$25. 404-523-7647. www.7stages.org.