“Age has nothing to do with the template that Beckett has pressed into my soul.”

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It changed him for the better. Really it did.

Occasionally, you hear someone blather on about how art can change your soul.  And far more rarely, you run across someone for whom it’s actually true.

Over at “A Piece of Monologue,” Rhys Trantor interviews 79-year-old actor and former felon Rick Cluchey, founding director of San Quentin Drama Workshop. Cluchey discovered Samuel Beckett and theater at the same time, while serving a sentence for armed robbery.  It’s a moving and powerful story, and it’s here.

The occasion for the article:  this month Cluchey was performing in one of Beckett’s very last plays, Krapp’s Last Tape, in Chicago.  It’s a role Cluchey has put his stamp on.  Even Beckett himself approved of the portrayal: “Rick is an impressive Krapp,” he confided in a letter.  And he repeated variants of the same thought to others before his death in 1989.

Cluchey was paroled in 1966, and finally met his mentor in Berlin, 1975.  He worked with the Irish playwright, and performed Krapp for the first time in 1977.

From the interview:

Since Cluchey’s first encounter with Beckett’s work in 1957, some fifty-six years have elapsed. I ask whether age has changed the way he performs the plays, or whether it’s changed what the texts mean to him. ‘No. Age has nothing to do with the template that Beckett has pressed into my soul. Beckett is the architect of the play, I follow his blue lines.’ Of Krapp’s Last Tape, he says: ‘I have played this part in three generations: prior to the age of Krapp in the play, whilst I was his age, and for many years after.’ Does the play, then, seem to remain relevant over the course of a whole lifetime? ‘Based on Beckett’s writing and direction, age shouldn’t be a factor.’

 Apparently, Chicago agrees. According to Lawrence B. Johnson writing in Chicago on the Aisle:  “Samuel Beckett died in 1989 at age 83, which gives one pause upon seeing that the current staging of his monodrama Krapp’s Last Tape produced by Shattered Globe Theatre is directed by Beckett himself. The answer is that the masterly impersonator of Krapp before us, Rick Cluchey, acquired the ticks, wrinkles and regrets of this hermetically sealed old man while working with Beckett late in the playwright’s life.

Curiously enough, we found a video of Cluchey performing the same role, also in Chicago, in 1981.  It’s below.


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2 Responses to ““Age has nothing to do with the template that Beckett has pressed into my soul.””

  1. John Adams Says:

    What a fascinating post, and thank you for linking to Rhys Trantor’s piece on Rick Cluchey. Your description of Cluchey as a “former felon” tempted me to object. Trantor’s post notes that the armed robber was paroled and eventually pardoned, though not exonerated. In any case, very few convicts make such good use of a captivity perfectly suited to staging works like “Waiting for Godot.” The banana snippet from “Krapp’s Last Tape” justifies three-and-a-half minutes of anyone’s time–a very good find.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Hmmmm… if he wasn’t exonerated, but rather served time and was pardoned, doesn’t that mean he’s a “former felon”? Please educate me on this one, John.

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