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By Steven Lieberman
Observer Reporter 

Dennehy Shines in Playhouse Doubleheader

Eugene O'Neill's play Hughie and Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.

 

November 29, 2018

Larger-than-life actor Brian Dennehy, 80 years of age, knocked it out of the park as he accepted the challenge of two roles in two different plays during the same performance at Geffen Playhouse on Sunday. He was Erie Smith in Eugene O'Neill's play Hughie and then after intermission tackled the role of Krapp in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.

It was a privilege to witness Dennehy, a living legend, up close in an intimate 120-seat Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre. He is a giant of film and theater and we were blessed to be able to see his talent shine, a career path that fortunately landed him on this stage.

In both plays, Dennehy plays a man feeling pain of loss, grief, depression, loneliness and yearning for the days of his youth. There is some humor, but that is overshadowed by a man experiencing darkness as he is lamenting his past.

In Hughie, Erie, a washed-up gambler, returns from a bender to the shoddy hotel where he's staying and speaks of Hughie, the deceased night clerk and his best friend, to the new night clerk, famously played by long-time Dennehy collaborater Joe Grifasi. Erie is excited that the new clerk's last name is Hughes and tries desperately to make an association with his dearly departed.

As Erie is speaking regretfully about his life, he attempts to go upstairs to his room a few times, but his loneliness is too overwhelming and continues the chat with Hughes. He doesn't want to be alone, feeling too much grief about Hughie. He's doing all he can to make a connection to the new night clerk as he misses talking to Hughie about his playing the horses, living the high life, and all of the girls that adored him. Erie is hoping that he can impress the new night clerk like he did with Hughie, and finally succeeds to create somewhat of a chemistry and synergy after a period of painful attempts.

In Krapp, Dennehy masterfully pulls off the one-man act as he winds reels around his reel-to-reel recorder and engages his bananas with great levity. Krapp is being silly with the famous scene -- eating and tossing of the banana peels -- before things get darker while listening to his own voice on the recordings from 30 years earlier while sitting at an old metal desk with one overhead hanging light in the dingy basement of his home.

As he is listening to himself 30 years ago on tape, he becomes angry and frustrated and seems to miss his youth. He steps away a few times to have a drink in a different room offstage to cope with his aging process and then returns to connect with his younger self on tape. Sometimes he laughs, other times swearing, trying to surrender to the fact that he is not the man he once was.

In the end, while looking at the pairing of these two plays, which by the way was a brilliant idea, the only difference was that Erie was interacting with the night clerk and Krapp with a tape recorder of his own voice. Both characters were lamenting their past and yearning to re-live their lives.

After the performance, I believe I felt the presence of O'Neiil and Beckett smiling down from the heavens upon Dennehy.

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'Hughie & Krapp's Last Tape'

Where: Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 16

Tickets: $30-$120

Information: (310) 208-5454 or geffenplayhouse.org

Running time: 2 hours (including intermission)

 

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