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Rick Cluchey discusses his love for the theatre and working with Samuel Beckett

BROADCAST: Jan. 24, 1980 | DURATION: 00:53:23


Rick Cluchey's love for the theatre began in the Theatre Group of the San Quentin Prison. After his time there, Cluchey spent three months in Berlin working with Samuel Beckett. It was there that Cluchey learned how Beckett seemed to choreograph his works onto the stage. An excerpt of an interview with Alan Schneider is also included.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel At the Goodman Studio Theatre is a remarkable one-man performance, or I should say that of two men. Rick Cluchey, a performer who does Krapp in "Krapp's Last Tape". The 69-year-old man listening to this tape of the 39-year-old guy himself 30 years ago, and in a sense commenting, rejecting what was and the other person involved is Samuel Beckett. Of course who wrote it. The Nobel laureate. "Waiting for Godot", "Endgame", "Happy Days", "Molloy", "Murphy", Beckett and his unique approach to theater and to life. Beckett directed Rick Cluchey. Rick himself is an alumnus of San Quentin, the San Quentin workshop. We'll talk about that too. And he's my guest this morning. You can see him at this, at the Studio Theatre of the Goodman until February 10th, that has been extended a week except for Monday nights. And Rick is here, Rick Cluchey, and his reflections on himself, on Krapp, and on Samuel Beckett after this message. [pause in recording] You know, Rick, I thought before your thoughts, Alan Schneider, who as you know was the American director who introduced Beckett to this country

Rick Cluchey Right.

Studs Terkel With "Godot", Schneider came to know Beckett well as you did. Suppose we hear Schneider's reflection [unintelligible] and this will be sort of a catapult for your thoughts.

Alan Schneider Unless we face up to certain truths about the nature of our lives on Earth, we cannot really live as human beings. I mean, most people think of Sam as a kind of a gloomy Gus that wanders around, I don't know, hitting his head against concrete abutments, I guess. Sam is the kind of guy you know I've wandered with Sam through the gardens of Luxembourg eating grapes that we bought off an open market, looking for a Ping-Pong parlor.

Studs Terkel He likes pool.

Alan Schneider He likes pool, he likes ping-pong, he was a tennis player, he was a rugby and cricket player, I've never met a man besides yourself with as great a love of life as Sam Beckett. I must say, I mean he has a different personality, but I mean he's a genial, lovely Irishman with great wit, great sensitivity, and I believe a tremendous talent for poetic expression, which is sometimes more evident in his prose plays than in his verse, you

Studs Terkel I stand corrected here, now I used the cliché. Obviously it's a clichéd description of Beckett, the easy word to spare. You're saying he says you've

Alan Schneider Gotta face up.

Studs Terkel Face up to life, is this story true? There's an apocry-- maybe it's apocryphal, the young member of a company of William [Bohr? Bore? Bohrer?], Rene Auberjonois, marvelous young actor, said he heard the story of Beckett that when Beckett's father died, he was a, Beckett's father was a sort of a semi-literate Irishman, [howled] so when he died, this is maybe not true, but [to me?] he grabbed Beckett on his dying, he says, "Never give up! Never give up!" It's the story

Alan Schneider You know, I've never heard this story, but I'd bet you it is true. The only that I'm bothered by was that, you say or Rene said that his father was a half-literate Irishman. I never heard that, his father was a sort of a combination of architect and contractor

Studs Terkel -- Oh, well, then

Alan Schneider I'm not sure how semiliterate he was, but I wouldn't be surprised. Apocryphal or not, it's a good story, and I must say that I don't get any sense from Sam of giving up. I mean, he has intense love of life and of people. Sam is a man, I'll tell you how I how I could identify Sam to you better than any other way. There is a story which I know about which is true, years ago when Sam was relatively unemployed, he wasn't exactly Joyce's secretary, by the way. He read to Joyce as Joyce was getting blind the way a great many young writers or artist in Paris were hired by Joyce to read to him or I suppose occasionally he may have answered a letter which you gave rise to the myth of being a secretary, he's never formally employed, but when he was unemployed, knocking around the Sorbonne there, he was walking up the boulevard Saint-Michel and he was approached by a beggar, a clochard, and Sam reached into his pocket and handed the beggar a few coins, and as he was handing him the coins, the beggar turned on Sam and stabbed him in the back with a knife, a great big knife, and Sam was taken to the hospital and for a while it looked as though he weren't going to live. But they fixed him up and at the end of his sojourn in the hospital he was asked by the Paris police to prefer charges against this guy, in other words for assault or whatever the term is, attempted murder. And Sam said, "No, I can't press charges against this man. To have done a thing like that means that he's suffering enough." Now I'm putting it a little more cornily than he put it. I mean, here's a man who in my opinion is incapable of hurting another human being if it is within his power not to do so. Now, that's not the image

Studs Terkel Now, there is a picture of Beckett. Rick Cluchey, in hearing Alan Schneider's reflections, thoughts that come to your mind.

Rick Cluchey Well, the fact of the story of the beggar stabbing Mr. Beckett is true, and if I could take it a step further, when there was a court proceeding on the matter, Beckett was in court with the man sitting next to him, and asked him, as they dismissed the charges, "Why did you stab me?" And the man said, "I don't know." And in many respects, that I think is the kind of summary of a lot of Beckett's writing and the -- of his dramatic works for the stage. And even now in the latest pieces that he's doing for television as a director and as a writer.

Studs Terkel Now, I was thinking

Rick Cluchey I don't know.

Studs Terkel I don't know. I was thinking as you will talk I trust about your working with Beckett on "Krapp's Last Tape", we'll talk about that, who Krapp is and the tape recorder and the young man and the old man in his mind, but Rick Cluchey, we have to come to yourself. Beginnings, you, how you came to meet Beckett and do that and become this man of the theater. We'll go back to Chicago beginnings.

Rick Cluchey Yes, well, you know born here in Chicago, and product of a broken home and not much education.

Studs Terkel Orphanages.

Rick Cluchey Orphanages, right. Two orphanages, finally getting in trouble and going to jail and committing armed robberies and ending up at San Quentin Prison in California for a life without possibility of parole sentence, and spending 12 years in prison and one fine morning looking up in there and finding a group of actors from the San Francisco workshop bringing in scenery and setting up our main dining hall stage for a performance of a play. And I think there were probably 1400 of us in there that evening watching it, and the play was called "Waiting for Godot" by an Irish writer Samuel Beckett, and we were told by the warden that if our reaction was good, that we could look forward to seeing more of these type of things. So everyone was more or less on their best behavior, but when that curtain opened and we were confronted with these two tramp-like figures, and then as the play progressed we saw two other people, one character's name is Lucky and the other one seemed to be a kind of warden-like figure

Studs Terkel Pozzo.

Rick Cluchey With a whip and rope around Lucky's neck, Pozzo, right. And there was a tremendous identification in our audience. The cons responded to this piece in such a genuine way and such a knowing way, that, and I speak of the group, but you know when you find there are the weight lifters you know, and the people you -- they came to be entertained. They came to see the fun show. And in a sense "Godot" is a fun show, but one has to look for what one can find in it. And I always often turn to Herbert Blau, who was the director of that production, his apt description of when he stepped through the curtain and looked at all of us and said, "Now, this is like a jazz score. You have to -- each one has to look and see what one can find in it for oneself." And it was literally true. The poetic range, the playing of games. This tragicomedy at one moment turning into deep philosophical statements. It's all there.

Studs Terkel Yet too, also two clown-like figures.

Rick Cluchey Definitely

Studs Terkel [Due?] back to Fratonelli clowns, E.G. Marshall who once did Didi. And you said something, that the guys at San Quentin, the prisoners understood "Waiting for Godot".

Rick Cluchey Yes,

Studs Terkel Didn't bewilder or baffle them. They didn't walk out. Couldn't very well walk out. They were truly a captive audience.

Rick Cluchey Yes, but it was a tremendous response, Studs. They -- I mean everybody got right with it.

Studs Terkel Now the reason they say that, Schneider recounts a horrendous experience when he first tried this out with Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell in Miami.

Rick Cluchey Right. Coconut [Grove] Playhouse there

Studs Terkel -- And there was a middle-class crowd and they all walked out on him, the young ushers were crying, but [they didn't understand what it's about?], but the prisoners understood. And in connection with that, there was a director of a Black theater group, a traveling theater group in the South with The Free Street Theater, his name was O'Neal, and they did "Waiting for Godot" for the Black sharecroppers and field hands and they too understood Beckett. Isn't that interesting?

Rick Cluchey Well, it's, it's a reflection I suppose, that the people who are buried literally with life, who are saddled with the ends of the extremities of life perhaps are in a receptive, perhaps they're in a knowing way able to translate the experiences of -- that Beckett brings to the stage. His range of clowns, his people trapped.

Studs Terkel Trapped.

Rick Cluchey The "Happy Days" imagery of the woman in the first act trapped in a mound of

Studs Terkel Earth.

Rick Cluchey Or sand up to her waist.

Studs Terkel Her waist.

Rick Cluchey Second act she's now succumbed to her neck, and his plays

Studs Terkel And yet she is full of humor and she is survived. Now, this is, is this, coming back to what Schneider said and what you're saying, that he does that survival.

Rick Cluchey Exactly.

Studs Terkel No matter what is what

Rick Cluchey But you know he gets our attention in such a unique way by placing his characters at the extreme edge of life, vis-a-vis the imagery of "Happy Days", Winnie, in his play "Spiel", which is let -- literally 'play' in German. He has people invested up to their neck in urns, big great earthen jars if you will.

Studs Terkel And you got the mother and father of "Endgame" which you did by the way here, in the San Quentin drama works which you directed and -- you got a Hamm or Clov's father and mother in the ash cans.

Rick Cluchey That's true.

Studs Terkel But there they are. Look, I'm

Rick Cluchey But it is, if you want to look at things like it is a closed system. Now, we get this report from beyond if you will and these people trapped in their extremities are speaking to us about life, their own lives and life as it is.

Studs Terkel But they're really saying, "Don't give up."

Rick Cluchey And they're saying "Don't give up." Sure.

Studs Terkel So we, we're gonna pick up on Rick Cluchey's story. So you and the other 1400 guys were there and you saw the San Francisco workshop do "Godot" and something happened to you.

Rick Cluchey Well, a group of us went along to the warden. Surely, I was, I -- it was the first play I'd ever seen, first off for starters, and there was a big reaction as I said, and a group went along to the warden and said, "Look let us do something like this now. I mean, we we'd like to begin a theater activity here." And this guy, being a kind of a liberal person, said "Okay. We'll give it a try. So we established a theater group at Quentin, and that group with change in faces here and there, people got out and people came back and what have you, over a period of about 10 years, and we produced something like 35 plays during that period of time, including seven productions of Beckett's work, notably the trilogy: "Godot", "Endgame", and "Krapp's Last Tape". So as an actor and as a director, I have done this play before, the one that we're doing at the Goodman, but it was my turning point in life, and I frankly having a life sentence didn't know what I was going to do. I was involved in a trade school there at Quentin and I'd went back to school, finished my high school. But the theater is what I really took an interest in. And for that period of time began as an actor and gradually got interested in directing plays and then finally writing. And before I was to leave San Quentin on parole, I'd written a play called "The Cage" which was kind of an investigation of my prison experience, and ultimately was produced by John Hancock and Ken Kitch at the San Francisco actor's workshop before I was released from San Quentin, and whereupon I was released, a group of the guys who had been workshop regulars had either been released or getting released, so we formed, reformed on the streets of San Francisco and began touring my play "The Cage". So that took me to many colleges, universities, Broadway, off Broadway. Most of the regional professional theaters in America. As I say, with this one piece called "The Cage". Well, in 1972 I decided that I had to do something else, and that perhaps going over to Europe would allow me the chance to write. So we took a tour of "The Cage", short tour

Studs Terkel You say we, you and a group.

Rick Cluchey The group, yes.

Studs Terkel San Quentin group

Rick Cluchey The same -- drama workshop. Yes, indeed. At that time all of us were former inmates of the prison. Now it has changed. Now we are professionals. There are no more former inmates. I'm the only survivor of that group, but going to Europe did allow me to write and also to get back into the plays of Samuel Beckett, and so gradually we added "Endgame", which we, was a big success

Studs Terkel -- This in Germany? Where was

Rick Cluchey Well, we first opened "Endgame" in Scotland. I'd written a letter to Sam and asked his permission. He said, "Certainly, you can do the plays."

Studs Terkel You hadn't met him yet.

Rick Cluchey I hadn't met him at that point. And so we gave the production of "Endgame" at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Festival. And it was a big, big success. And then we began touring it along with "The Cage". Germany, Holland, Switzerland, England. So finally we took a production to Paris in his honor and we performed at the American cultural center there, and for an invited audience, and it was packed out that night, and the French press the next day said, "Beckett's revenge," that you know his works have been as you made reference to the Miami production with Schneider, a lot of the productions of his plays have been held in contempt and that the middle class or the literati walk out on it saying "We don't understand this. This man is a nihilist, or this man is an atheist or he's godless," and whether or not our true connection from San Quentin of being able to pick up on this special side of Beckett find, plumb the depths, get the humor out of it, get the, get what's there really out. And so we've had this kind of success wherever we've gone. The next day following the Paris evening, and naturally Sam had sent his spies, he met with us. And he said, "You know, I never go to the theater. And, but my friends have all told me how much they enjoyed the production. Therefore, you can do any of my plays anytime anywhere. In fact, I'm going to Berlin myself to direct a production for the first time in German of 'Waiting for Godot.' Would you like to come and help me?" Well, I certainly did, you know, and so I spent three months in West Berlin with Sam as his second

Studs Terkel What is it you were learning there when you worked with Beckett during their three months?

Rick Cluchey Well, how interesting to see this man, this this tremendous person, human being work with a play like "Godot", which had confounded you know a generation of playgoers and directors and critics. But to watch him sculpt out on this living canvas, to watch him study each move for the actor, the musicality of the play came to life. The rhythmic, tremendous rhythmic structure of the play became accessible. The humor just came out of it naturally.

Studs Terkel You know, something you said, to watch him sculpt out.

Rick Cluchey Correct.

Studs Terkel Now, there's a critic named John Calder who says "Beckett's approach is painterly. Painterly rather than literary."

Rick Cluchey That's correct.

Studs Terkel So it were a painting, and you mentioned music, too.

Rick Cluchey Well, I think John Calder, whom I know quite well, he's been Beckett's publisher in England for many, many years, and I've had the opportunity to speak with John a number of times, and yes, Beckett is the landscape artist. Beckett is the painter in charge of the canvas. When he had written these plays, the worst possible thing perhaps is that he would have undertaken the direction of them, but given the fact that a generation could go by, that 20 years could go by and that he having the benefit of many other people's approaches to his work could go in and say, "Now, this is the way I see it, there are obviously other interpretations, but this is the way I see it. This is the way I hear it," which is more important.

Studs Terkel "Way I hear it."

Rick Cluchey Yes, because of this this full rich poetic range.

Studs Terkel And so we're leading of course up to you and working with Beckett and "Krapp's Last Tape", which is performed at the Studio Theatre at the Goodman through February 10th, and perhaps coming to that now, so he doesn't -- he works differently than if there is such a thing as a traditional director, some would almost say not to put it down, "anti-dramatic," that is I don't mean, that is, not that isn't dramatic, but anti what is traditionally dramatic, it MOVES FAST and quick on a certain -- whereas here is very deliberate, almost every movement is deliberate.

Rick Cluchey Yes, yes. You're right. I wouldn't not call him a professional director. I would call him you know, a sculptor, a painter. He is a musician. He hears a special sound in his work. He sees a special form of his work. And from the experience of working with him in Berlin with "Godot", that was in 1975. I took his prompt book, his director's book back to Chicago, and we staged a production here in '76 and then I was given a special grant to return to Germany for a year in 1977, and when I went to West Berlin for the grant, artist in residence, I wrote Sam again and he said, "Well, I'm going to be down in Stuttgart, won't you -- doing some television work, won't you come down?" And so I did, and I asked him at the time, would he consider directing me in "Krapp's Last Tape"? He said, "I'll think about it, Rick, and I'll let you know." Well I stayed overnight in Stuttgart, and the next day came in for his final screening of the ghost trio, which was being readied for state television in Germany. And he met me in the cafeteria and he said, "I've thought it over, Rick, and I've decided to do it." So I went back to Berlin just as excited as you can imagine. And sure enough, two months later he was on the plane, I picked him up at the airport, and we began work. Now, "Krapp's Last Tape" is a play written in something like 1958 or '57, and the first play he'd written directly to English. Normally he would write in the French, translate there into the English. So a special piece, and the first dramatist I believe to use a tape recorder as the second person onstage. And as you pointed out in your introduction, here's a man who is trying to connect with the past, a man who has had a habit as probably you know most people in radio do, they have to make a lot of recordings of things, so every year on his birthday this old guy wants to get back into that special tape, that special memory of time past, when in fact he had made a decision to stop womanizing, to stop drinking, to concentrate his whole effort on his opus magnum. And this is the subject of the play. Well, in Beckett's approach to it, that tape which comprises about a third of the evening for the audience, had to be exactly tonally musically correct. It took us four days to get 16 minutes of tape, and he is a director of inches. I like to refer to that because not only had we gone over endlessly the sound of these words, whilst I was in the studio he was separated as with a glass in a glass wall with a button on the other side so that he could instantly cut in if I totally or the pacing of this, of the monologue. Well, after four days we got what he considered acceptable tape, usable tape. So. There followed then at the, on the stage of the Academy of Art in West Berlin, almost a month of work. Movement.

Studs Terkel By the way, det-- you know, the Goodman hands out facsimiles of some of his program, is his notebooks, the pieces of

Rick Cluchey Yes.

Studs Terkel It's -- I notice also direction when you read "Godot", "Endgame", it is detailed.

Rick Cluchey Exactly.

Studs Terkel The absolute -- the business, the props, the costumes, everything -- detailed.

Rick Cluchey Yes.

Studs Terkel What you're talking about

Rick Cluchey Yes indeed, there are no accidents in this piece, or in, as I can see in any of the other pieces, because now I've worked with him on "Endgame" as well, and our overall goal, and Sam has agreed to finish up our series of these three plays, the circle of his plays, "Godot", "Endgame" and the "Tape". So at this point he has directed the "Tape", and he is 50 percent done with "Endgame" with us, which was done in '78, and he's told me, I just recently was with him in Paris, and he said, "This time we're gonna finish it." So this year we look forward to completion of "Endgame" and hopefully toward the end of the year undertaking the production of "Godot" in English. And it is the San Quentin Drama Workshop's commitment to take these Beckett signature pieces around to the universities, feeling that since they are required to study Beckett in literature that this would open up and make more accessible to the students and the teachers the real Beckett.

Studs Terkel I was going to say, before we take the break and we come to "Endgame" -- to "Krapp's Last Tape" itself, you as Krapp and the interpretation, the 69-year-old man, his props, the tapes, and the memory [theme? thing?]. The San Quentin Theater, is that still in San Quentin? Is it now par for the course to have

Rick Cluchey No. It's finished.

Studs Terkel It's finished.

Rick Cluchey I, when I was released, a few months after I was released, the warden, a new warden came in and terminated the activity.

Studs Terkel So there isn't

Rick Cluchey No, there hasn't been since '67

Studs Terkel So there can't be the case of someone such as yourself suddenly finding the open window, the open door.

Rick Cluchey Not at Quentin.

Studs Terkel So it's changed.

Rick Cluchey Yes, unfortunately.

Studs Terkel Well, let us -- let's take a pause to remind the audience of Rick Cluchey is doing Krapp at "Krapp's Last Tape" as directed by Samuel Beckett at the Goodman Studio Theatre, it's in the Goodman every night through February 10th of an extended, except for Monday and we'll come to the old man, this guy, Krapp, in a moment after this message. [pause in recording] Before we talk about Krapp, before we talk about Krapp, let's hear Schneider again, he's telling about he had gone to Paris and he had seen "Godot" for the first time. And he decided to confront something that's hitting him, and he hadn't met Beckett yet, and we'll pick up from there and continue.

Alan Schneider There was something almost mystical about it, and I went back the next night. I got a copy of the play in French, I read it so I had a little more sense of it. I went back the next night and I began to get right into its mood and atmosphere, and then I spent another week trying to find the author. Now, he was very elusive. He didn't want to be found. I left him notes, I tried to call him up, he didn't have a telephone, I wrote him letters, I did everything, and finally I said, "The heck with it." I couldn't find him because I'd heard that the play had been sold in English, and it was sold to be done in London with Alec Guinness and Ralph Richardson, which struck me as a good idea. But I gave up. I mean, I was, had lost out on that one, I wanted to get hold of it, and I couldn't find him, so I just gave up. Well, as it turned out, Ralph Richardson got cold feet. He didn't want to do the play. Guinness wouldn't do it because Richardson didn't want to do it, and it was finally done in the Little Theatre Off Broadway in London. Well, I'd heard about it and I wanted to see it, I had read the reviews, it sounded fascinating to me, and one day I was I was in Chicago, and now you won't believe me. I had just given a talk in Madison, Wisconsin, my old alma mater and I was passing through Chicago on my way back to New York. I get a phone call from a New York producer, and he says, "Alan Schneider?" "Yeah." "I want you to direct a play called 'Waiting for Godot.' You want to do it? So on, we got Bert Lahr and Tommy Ewell," I said, "Yeah!" You know? And it turned out that there'd been another director, Garson Kanin, who got cold feet, didn't want to do the play, and they'd thought of me because Thornton Wilder had heard that I read this play or had seen the play or I talked to him, something about it and told him I liked it, but I didn't know anything about it. Well anyhow, I was hired to do this play, and the producer, in one of his rare acts of wisdom, sent me to Europe to meet Beckett. I wanted to meet Beckett, and we bombarded -- I'd been trying two years before to meet Beckett. Is this all interesting? I don't know.

Studs Terkel It's fantastic, go ahead!

Alan Schneider And so Beckett resisted or tried to resist this meeting, but finally he agreed, and I quote, "To give the New York director a half an hour." Well, I crossed the ocean for this half hour with Sam Beckett. And as a matter of fact, I went across the ocean with Thornton Wilder, and we talked about Beckett all the time. He admired Beckett immensely. Thought he was one of the greatest writers of drama in the 20th century, it was very, very good of Thorton you know to be that generous in his judgment, and I got to Paris and I thought, "Well, now what am I going to, what am I going to do? I'll meet this guy." I went out and I bought a bottle of champagne, and I don't know anything about champagne, but I thought it would be suitable to get him as a brand of champagne called "The Tears of Christ". So I bought him Lacryma Christi champagne. I couldn't call him, he has no phone, and so I sent him what they call a pneumatique, it's this fast mail thing, you send it like in a department store

Studs Terkel -- A tube, yeah.

Alan Schneider Where the money goes in a tube, where you send a letter and you get an answer back, got an answer back. Okay, he'd be at my hotel at whatever time it was, six o'clock. He only had a half an hour. And I get downstairs, and there's this gaunt, quarter-miler you might say, in a sheepskin coat, glasses, hair sort of straggly and the like the feathers of a hawk, and we sit down the hotel lobby and I take out -- I'm, I'm sort of, I don't even know what I'm going to ask him, I got a notebook full of questions but he doesn't answer questions, so you know I just want to meet Beckett, so I take out the bottle of champagne and I say, "Mr. Beckett, I just thought you'd like this," and he looks at me, he says, "Well, now where are we going to drink it?" And I said," Well, I don't know." He says, "Well, let's come over to my house. We got a few minutes," and so on. So went to his house, which wasn't too far from the hotel, and it was a walk-up, rather plain artist's studio, a lot of paintings on the wall of friends of his, no famous artists, a few books, very simple, spare, and we drank the whole bottle of champagne. Then we began to drink his bottles of stuff, and about four hours later he said to me, I'd been asking him questions in the meantime, you know, I'd ask him, first I'd ask him stupid questions like "Who is Godot?" or "What is Godot?" And he'd say, "If I knew I woulda put it in the script," you know. He really did say that, he said it nicely, but he said it.

Studs Terkel It was leading up to that, of course, but the sorta kinda guy, "If I knew what it was, I'd have put it in the script."

Rick Cluchey I literally believe that as well. I've heard him say it, too. Yeah, I mean, oh God, now what to say. I mean, he told me once, "Well, look. The character of Vladimir and

Studs Terkel Didi and Gogo.

Rick Cluchey Yeah. Didi and Gogo. Estragon, whom he almost called Levi, and thought that you know, trying to get away from the -- what he says the awful prose he was writing at the time turned to the theatre for comfort and wrote "Waiting for Godot" in a period of about four months.

Studs Terkel You know, something in "Godot", there is he mentions the town "Vaucluse," Vaucluse, and I realize in looking over stuff about Beckett that he was a member of the Resistance, in Nazi time, and he escaped to Vaucluse, which means the UNOCCUPIED AREA!

Rick Cluchey That's right.

Studs Terkel So there is something in his life that he also was a member of the Resistance to something.

Rick Cluchey Yes,

Studs Terkel And he used that, everything in it, but in his own -- but he says, "If I knew it I wouldn't -- I'd have told you." He's also talking about this crazy aspect of life, too, isn't he, and how somehow you gotta survive through all of the mysteries and goofiness of it too, and man's clownishness.

Rick Cluchey And that he is the, that he is the poet who can bring this in its abstraction to us.

Studs Terkel So we come to Krapp. Now who is, who is Mr. Krapp?

Rick Cluchey Well, as a character on the stage who has no first name, I did some research and found out that Beckett had started a prose fragment some years before and gave it up, abandoned it, but the name was Krapp, and the first name was Victor and that this person turned against his family and left and so on, but uncompleted prose fragment, so then surfaces the play "Krapp's Last Tape", and I choose to think that he is a man, a writer. Much in the same way that Sam is a writer, who has tended to record over a period of years all of his thoughts as the first step toward writing them down, as he says in the course of the play his opus magnum. Well, Beckett's direction of the piece, he told me the first thing, "This is a closed system. What you see is what you get. Now, you can't go beyond this point. You are locked into it as a caged animal, and the frustration of this man, the anger and bitterness of this man, this 69-year-old man, looking back 30 years listening to what he felt, what he thought, and what his -- what he was going to do with life. Is tremendously moving. We have the younger Krapp full of life and

Studs Terkel That we hear on the tape.

Rick Cluchey On the tape, indeed, and the living Krapp, 69 years old, confronting it with his scoffing, with his anger. And finally to what the scholars call the liquid passage of the play, also contained on the tape, the memory that he's trying to cut back to, the memory that the old man is trying to get back into, of a date with a girl in a boat and an afternoon of lovemaking in the boat, only to be decided at that point in time that they would break it off, that there would be no longer any relationship. And she agreed without opening her eyes. So here we have this Irish poet using something as modern as a tape recorder to allow man to confront himself with the record of life

Studs Terkel And what's so funny though is the old man of 69 is looking upon that 39-year-old guy himself as a RIVAL, as someone who -- and he's gonna scoff and he's going to put him down, so in a sense he's almost rejecting a past that somehow led to the frustration that is a 69-year-old man's life.

Rick Cluchey Right. But you know the final moments of that tape are the most telling, when he says, "I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now."

Studs Terkel So now, we come to something interesting. The 69-year-old guy has more fire than the 39-year-old guy had. He's got the fire. The body is not what it was, the opportunity isn't -- you know what's funny about this? Why Beckett really is a positive rather than negative writer.

Rick Cluchey Yes,

Studs Terkel And why Alan Schneider's lecture when he -- on Beckett was called "On", the phrase Pozzo uses, "Where you going?" [Unintelligible] "I'm going on." Well, about the old man having more passion than the young man, the great lieder singer, Lotte Lehmann, one of the greatest of our century, was telling of a time she and Toscanini and Bruno Walter met, they were all now in their 70s and close to 80 in Tuscany in Walter's case, cases, and they were talking about their younger days and how the body was there, but oh, nothing compared to their feelings and passion now, that they're little more on the not decrepit side physically they were, but no, the passion -- and Beckett is saying this about Krapp, 69, commenting on the

Rick Cluchey Yes.

Studs Terkel So it's kind of a, it's full of vitality.

Rick Cluchey I think so too, and full of life, that this tremendous poetry can come out and the sound of those words, the feeling behind those words, and the kind of attitude of the old man toward the younger self. I should think that he to a large extent as Beckett says, rejects and negates that younger person. But in the final moments when we listen to that tape running on into silence, "I wouldn't want them back." The, he's speaking of the years. I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now. [I know? And no?] I wouldn't want them back." But Beckett said, "You know he would. You know that old man wanted those years back."

Studs Terkel Of course he

Rick Cluchey And so he ends up and -- when the poetic beauty, beautiful poetic things about it is that he's added to the piece what the music of Schubert, the beautiful death, the [hein?] in German, the looking behind, the hearing of this music, and the looking behind to find no one, and then coming back in the final moment hearing the music again, the music of death, and Beckett's suggestion that perhaps this is the final night of Krapp's life.

Studs Terkel You know, that is again so many thoughts come to mind as say that, the vitality is greater than ever on that final night. The clink -- we're talking about clinging to life, remember one of the scenes in "Zorba", you know this is in the novel of Kazantzakis and the film too, when Madame Hortense is dying, and she clings to Zorba, but that clinging had a certain kind of fire and desperation as connected with Auberjonois' story about Beckett's father, true or not, the cling to life, and so this is the old man Krapp is not one of despair at all as hanging on with a tremendous passion toward that which is life, even though he speak -- Beckett speaks of the prison in which we live which comes back to San Quentin and you and the Black sharecroppers again.

Rick Cluchey Well, oddly enough, the prison of La Sante, which is in the center of Paris, Beckett's apartment on the seventh floor looks into the courtyard of La Sante prison. And I had a tremendous reaction the first time I was there just sit in his work room and look out there, see that prison, see that courtyard surrounded by the wall, and wonder at the man who could sit in that space and create plays like "Waiting for Godot" and novels. What must have been going through his mind, and

Studs Terkel Did he ever talk to you

Rick Cluchey Yes. He said, you know, that this -- many times he sees them trying to signal out of the prison with mirrors, trying to get peoples' on the outsides attention, and the prison is surrounded by a residential complex of, and so on. But he commented on some of the early -- in the early days, he'd been living there since the early '40s. The executions were the guillotine, and he kind of closed the door on me, because my next question was, "You actually saw one?" And he said, "No," he said, "I could never bear to look at blood," but they certainly attracted the throngs and the crowds of the curious, would come to the prison early at dawn is when they

Studs Terkel You saw that prison I suppose as the metaphor, the reality and the meta-- but also he saw these guys trying to attract outside attention.

Rick Cluchey Yes.

Studs Terkel There's a story that Marcel Marceau, the mime tells, about Melun Prison, Melun, a suburb of Paris which I visited there and at that time there were a lot of capital criminals there, and Marceau described a scene which he's performing his mime in a hallway, and the guys are by themselves in the cells, and he knows they're all looking for the keyholes. Through their keyholes, they are his audience. And each one is in solitary, but they see this guy and it's as though the guys think of Beckett's 'cause the guys in the mirror, with the mirrors, thee's something ON again we come to Pozzo where? In prison, but ON, out there.

Rick Cluchey And Sam has told me stories where he, during the Nazi occupation, was forced to flee for his life for the Vaucluse, to the Vaucluse, where he also wrote I think it was "Murphy", one of the novels, anyway, but "What", sorry, the novel "What", but he was forced to sleep in a prison one night, in an abandoned prison, with other members of the Resistance with his wife and with other members of the Resistance, and he told me that that had a tremendous impact on him.

Studs Terkel During his directing you in "Krapp's Last Tape", he knew of course of you in San Quentin.

Rick Cluchey Yes, of course. Did he

Studs Terkel Did he ever ask you to call upon that moment of experience, or whatever it is, in your doing Krapp. I'm just curious.

Rick Cluchey Well, you know the play is contrasted with tremendous stillness and then violence. That Beckett's counterpoint, and his simile for it was the caged animal. So that's very close to my biography there at Quentin, and that he could interface this this great stillness with sudden violence, the impact of that.

Studs Terkel You know, it's interesting, there's a profile of you and they have this particular conversation with "The Chicago Tribune", of you Rick Cluchey, and it's as though Krapp seemingly rejects that past, Beckett says he does not. You of course recognize your past, and you fuse that to your present, the experiences of it.

Rick Cluchey Yes. Well, as a as a playwright and an actor, I think we can use those types of things, the real experiences of our life, and in the sense of keeping what is good and perhaps disallowing what is bad.

Studs Terkel You know, we haven't talked about the humor. It is not the humor of a gag, you know, it's a certain kind of crazy [unintelligible] that suddenly a laugh erupts at a strange place. The humor of life and of a situation. I was, one night I was doing -- when E.G. Marshall was in town for doing a month in the country and other things with Geraldine Page, there was one night a Beckett night and he had done "Godot" -- he had done Didi to Bert Lahr's "Godot", so I did "Godot" that night, the Bert Lahr role, and he was directing us, E.G., and once but we embrace -- become but like Fratonelli clowns. The clown part, like clowns, they come, how the clowns are very slap each other on the back, feet apart, and there's the -- 'cause he sees life as a clown show too,

Rick Cluchey I think so. Yeah. Very strongly. Very strongly. His own version of the clown show, which is quite interesting.

Studs Terkel Well, when you do -- or you doing Krapp. Here's this guy, and it's kind of funny. Comes out this strange and serious and funny, this guy with your makeup and, you have a little red nose on, kind of white around, as though you are a circus clown in a way that intimation of it.

Rick Cluchey Well, there is -- perhaps we've gotten off the track a bit with that approach, but he sees the makeup and he's the first one to admit he's no, no makeup person, Beckett is he, you know, he sees costumes quite clearly, but makeup it's a bit beyond him, and the text calls for the red nose, because of his drinking, because Krapp is a spent how many ti-- the tape tells us how many years, he's counted it up, almost 40 percent of his waking hours spent in the wine house drinking, so that red nose, he's earned it you know with the drink, but the black and white, of course the play itself is construction is an anagram of black and white. If one wanted to say good and evil, or using those extremes.

Studs Terkel But you see, I saw the makeup, this is again my interpreta-- I saw the makeup as a clown's makeup, you see, the traditional circus character clown.

Rick Cluchey With the white bushy hair and so on.

Studs Terkel Hair fiery, at this, here's this guy. Anger and trouble, yet -- by the way, did -- you ever direct you have trouble with -- I'm now being autobiographical. Trouble with the tapes? That is, you put in the tape and the machine and getting frustrated, and at any time

Rick Cluchey Oh, sure.

Studs Terkel Of the reels getting mixed up?

Rick Cluchey Oh, it's an ever-present threat to the performance that something technically can go wrong, and it's happened to me a number of times. No -- not at the Goodman, thanks God, but in Europe.

Studs Terkel Now I'm thinking out loud, why shouldn't Krapp -- I'm not Beckett. [Unintelligible] What about to add to the frustration, here's 69 now, and he's leaving and -- hmm, this is getting autobiographical. What about getting the tapes mixed up, adding to the frustration, the fury, he, remember he smacks, he BANGS, throws some of the tapes on the floor. Suppose he puts the wrong one on and goofs up. You see, Beckett doesn't allow that.

Rick Cluchey Well, what he said is that if you have any technical problems during the course of the performance, he said, "Use the rage. Use the frustration and use the anger. Play the anger. Curse. Do what you have to do to cover it." And as you say, that moment at the end where he rejects what he's now thinking and just tears those tapes off the machine, slams them and set the light in motion at the same

Studs Terkel Oh, of course, there's something else that happens here is very, very effective theatrically. You've got a lamp above hanging, and he hits it, and so the light's swinging back and forth and that has its own kind of a reflection.

Rick Cluchey Yes. As the tape continues to talk, the light has a pendulum effect. And casting him in shadow ultimately then in light.

Studs Terkel By the way, did Beckett had that in mind originally or did that happen accidentally during the rehearsal?

Rick Cluchey No, he came to rehearsal one day and said that he'd thought about it and, "Let's try this." And so he said when -- and he demonstrated it for me, and of course the technical people had to hang the light at a certain ang-- at a certain distance above the table so that this could be accomplished, but, you know, he worked it all out, Studs, every bit of it.

Studs Terkel Talking to Rick Cluchey, who is doing Krapp in "Krapp's Last Tape". Oh by the way, you also have allow there's discussion after the performance

Rick Cluchey Yes

Studs Terkel Runs about 50 minutes to an hour.

Rick Cluchey Sure.

Studs Terkel After the performance you open for discussions, I was very excited. Exciting kind of back and forth with you and the audience asking questions. We have that. It's through February 10th at the Goodman except for Mondays, and perhaps about yourself that your story of course, your own story is a fascinating one, and Dejon [sic - John D.] Hancock, the very excellent director, did "Bang the Drum Slowly", will be directing it, and De Niro will be playing you.

Rick Cluchey That's correct. Yes, yes. Hopefully we do some of the filming here in Chicago. Would like that very much. And the story ends up at West Berlin at the wall, which is where I've had a studio for the past three years.

Studs Terkel So any thoughts come to your mind now, we still have a few moments, you know, and

Rick Cluchey Well, it's always a pleasure to come back to Chicago, and I've done now this is the third Beckett play we've done in town.

Studs Terkel You did "Endgame". And what else?

Rick Cluchey "Krapp's Last Tape" as we have today, and "Waiting for Godot".

Studs Terkel Oh, you did "Godot" here. I didn't see that.

Rick Cluchey We did it at the American Indian Center over on Wilson Avenue.

Studs Terkel That, by the way, the American Indian Center. So, the American Indians were in the audience

Rick Cluchey Oh, yes. Oh,

Studs Terkel What was their reaction to

Rick Cluchey Tremendous. Tremendous. They loved it. They came back every night because we weren't charging any money, you

Studs Terkel So here we have, here we have the inmates of San Quentin understanding Beckett. We have the Black sharecroppers understanding Beckett, and American Indians in Chicago understanding Beckett, because in a sense they're on a reservation. And but the Miami crowd couldn't make it out, and so Beckett must have something. How does he feel about audiences?

Rick Cluchey Well he, I think -- well I know he would never come to a performance. He will -- even if he's directing it, he'll wait down in the cafeteria or he'll wait somewhere else, and then come to a brief party afterwards with the actors and maybe some of their friends and have a couple of drinks.

Studs Terkel Because he didn't show up for his own award at the, couldn't wear that full dress, you know formal for the Nobel

Rick Cluchey Nobel ceremonies, yeah.

Studs Terkel But there you so -- you continue from here where?

Rick Cluchey Well, I go back to West Germany, West Berlin, sorry, and undertake a play of mine which we're going to produce over there at the Academy of Art, and then

Studs Terkel A play you've written.

Rick Cluchey Yes. And I'll be doing a BBC television play of Sam's this spring in London called "Hey, Joe", we'll be at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin late April -- oh, sorry, late May and first week of June which the Goodman Theatre is going to sponsor this tour of "Endgame" and "Krapp's Last Tape" at the Abbey. And being here in Chicago was largely the result of Gregory Mosher, who as you know is the new artistic director at the Goodman

Studs Terkel Who takes chances beautifully.

Rick Cluchey Yeah he's a, he's a sweet guy, and so the reason I'm here is because Greg Mosher kept after me in Germany and got us over here.

Studs Terkel Perhaps just a word about Greg Mosher, if I may. He takes risks beautifully. He brought in Wole Soyinka's play, "Death and the King's Horseman", first time ever here, and here's "Krapp's Last Tape" and of course the integrated cast, a different approach entirely. Not a play about race and Ibsen's "Enemy of the People" of course

Rick Cluchey -- Fantastic production. Marshall and Winfield are so powerful.

Studs Terkel Well, we come back to you now, Rick, and simply saying I guess you're made to order to do Beckett, as well as write your own stuff and thank you very much indeed for being a guest on the program. Remind the audience once more at the Goodman Studio Theatre every night but Monday, extended through February 10th. Thank you very much.

Rick Cluchey Well, thank you Studs.