Pitt Rep’s ‘polar opposite’ plays complement each other

By Tracey Hickey

“Krapp’s Last Tape”

Directed by Jordan Matthew… “Krapp’s Last Tape”

Directed by Jordan Matthew Walsh

“Wanda’s Visit”

Directed by Rachel Brookstein

Through Sunday

Studio Theatre

Thursday -Saturday, 8 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday, matinees 2 p.m.

$8 for students

412-624-PLAY (7529) or www.play.pitt.edu

On the surface, “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Wanda’s Visit” could not be more different.  But although the title characters “are polar opposites,” according to “Krapp’s Last Tape” director Jordan Walsh, they share a primary motivation  — an unhealthy fixation on the past, and the inability to move past a long-expired relationship.

This semester’s lab production is a double-header, beginning with Samuel Beckett’s 1958 one-man, one-act “Krapp’s Last Tape” and ending with Christopher Durang’s 1994 comedy “Wanda’s Visit.”

“Krapp’s Last Tape” centers on one man, just turning 70, who for the past several decades has made a tape every year on his birthday, commenting on the year that has just passed. Over the course of the play, he listens to tapes from previous years and reflects on his former self and lost loves as well as his current state of loneliness.

“Wanda’s Visit” deals with middle-aged suburban couple Jim and Marsha, who receive a letter from Jim’s high school sweetheart and decide to invite her to come for a visit. As they soon find out, Wanda has never gotten over her infatuation with Jim and runs the couple ragged with her inappropriate antics and transparent attempts to win back her old flame.

The shows vary drastically in tone. Courtney Strauss, who plays Wanda, describes her character as “zany … the ultimate role for a comedic actress to play,” whereas Walsh, the director of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” describes his play as “a downer.” Yet both hinge on the theme of obsession with the past and dissatisfaction with the present.

“Jim and Marsha started out their marriage wanting to have a ‘good life,’ and now they have a good life. They’re comfortable, and it sucks,” explains Brian Shaffer, who plays Jim in “Wanda’s Visit.” “And Krapp started out life wanting to be a great writer, and regardless of his success, it wasn’t worth it.”

Moira Quigley, who stars as Jim’s wife Marsha, agrees. “It’s about getting what you want, but not being happy with it. Krapp deals with that by himself, and Jim and Marsha deal with it … with an unwanted guest.”

The cast admits that, at first, Jim is nearly as eager to see Wanda as she is to see him. “When you think about it,” said Rachel Brookstein, the director of “Wanda’s Visit,” “I’m 20. Jim hasn’t seen Wanda in 20 years. I can’t imagine not seeing someone for the whole time I’ve been alive, and then seeing them again  — it’s hard to picture the reaction that she would give him.”

Krapp also struggles with the memories of an old flame. “A great deal of it is about a relationship that he had with a woman, but he never gets to meet her again,” Walsh said. “She’s stuck in his past, whereas in ‘Wanda’s Visit’ she comes back. [Krapp] never gets the satisfaction of dealing with it again, he just gets to wallow in the memories.”

Walsh feels the shows were paired perfectly because, “my show is so heavy that theirs kind of balances it out. It’s a really good setup. After seeing [“Krapp’s Last Tape”], people are going to be so relieved to be able to laugh.”

But the cast and director of “Wanda’s Visit” stress that their show isn’t all fun and games.

Brookstein said, “I think it’s a choice of the director to make it serious or not, it could definitely be played funny, but I chose to make it serious … because it’s so relatable. Jim and Marsha are so typical and it could be funny, but … I don’t know, it’s heartbreaking to watch. I think it’s heartbreaking to watch a couple try to find something they’re never going to find.”

“There’s so much I want to say, but I can’t spoil the ending.” Matt Russak, who plays the waiter in “Wanda’s Visit,” said apologetically. “But you won’t see it coming. You have to come see it for yourself.”