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Bend it like Beckett

Firehouse Theatre unwinds Samuel Beckett’s one-act “Krapp’s Last Tape”

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Studying Samuel Beckett’s one-act play “Krapp’s Last Tape” in college, local actor and director James Ricks was skeptical he’d ever mount a production of the show.

“This is something that I never thought in a million years I’d get a chance to work on,” says Ricks, who recalls thinking “‘This is so unusual and surreal. Who’s going to put this on? Who’s ever going to give me a chance to do this?’”

The Firehouse Theatre, as it turns out. Onstage through Feb. 20 with limited seating, Firehouse’s production stars Alan Sader under Ricks’ direction. Planned for Firehouse’s 27th season even before the pandemic, “Krapp’s” status as a one-man show made it viable to mount while observing the theater’s safety protocols.

The play takes place on Krapp’s 69th birthday. As is his tradition, Krapp records a journal entry of himself while also listening to a recording he made on his birthday 30 years earlier. Over the course of an hour, Krapp’s life – his aspirations, defeats, lusts and losses – slowly unspool as he ruminates.

With its tragicomic reflections on daily routines and the absurdity of existence and old age, Ricks says “Krapp” shares similar themes with Beckett’s most famous work, “Waiting for Godot.”

“It forces us to reconcile who we are with who we were,” Ricks says of the play. “The past is always brighter, the future’s always darker.”

Sader has known of the play nearly since it was first performed in the late 1950s, but never envisioned himself in the role. A local actor who’s tackled King Lear among other weighty roles, Sader has had a long career in TV and film, including roles in “The Prince of Tides,” “Evan Almighty,” “Matlock” and “Dawson’s Creek.” Still, he’s probably best known as the television spokesman for ChildFund International, formerly Christian Children’s Fund. In December, a screenshot of Sader in his ChildFund role was even used in a “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live” that skewered Donald Trump.

Sader sees Krapp as an Everyman, and says he tries to ignore any sort of absurdist label given to the show, calling it “a straightforward-enough 45 minutes to an hour of visiting with an old guy who has not been a success in life, in his personal life or in his professional life, and is coming to the end of it.”

Sader hopes audiences enjoy the show’s intertwining of the serious and the comedic.

“The playwright is remarkable in how he draws us into, inside the small world of Krapp, and we hope for 50 minutes or so people are fascinated by it,” he says.

As with the other shows it has staged in the pandemic, Firehouse is limiting the audience in its 99-seat house to a maximum of 10. Masks will be required and temperatures will be checked upon entering the theater. For those still leery of seeing the show in person, audiences also have the option of livestreaming the performance. Sader takes the size of the audience in stride.

“In my life in theater, I’ve [played] some tiny houses, not by design, but just because nobody showed up,” he says.

Ricks says Sader is remarkable in the show.

“It’s pretty phenomenal to watch him work. He’s such an intelligent and thoughtful and interesting actor to work with. He’s really jumping into the deep end with this,” Ricks says.

Performed as a benefit for the Firehouse, Ricks says “Krapp’s Last Tape” is a fitting production for the pandemic.

“Seems like it might be a more relevant time to do it, since we all have kind of an experience with isolation right now on some level,” Ricks says. “With Beckett, you’ve always got this strong element of confinement. No one ever leaves the stage. But in the case of this one, there’s isolation, isolated by his life choices, and, I guess, his old age.”

“Krapp’s Last Tape,” takes plays through Feb. 20 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. For information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call 355-2001.

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