SAN DIEGO — Ever since the San Diego Repertory Theatre settled into its new home at the Lyceum, little-known groups have been crawling out of the woodwork and onto the stage of its old Sixth Avenue Playhouse.
It's a nice, if transient, platform for companies like Sledgehammer Theatre and Boxing Day Productions, which aren't commercial enough to play to built-in subscription audiences.
Of course, lacking both publicity and name recognition, sometimes they play to hardly any audience at all.
Catfish Productions, the company of local actress Jo Ann Reeves, is the most recent casualty. Catfish is putting on a one-woman show with Reeves, featuring "Krapp's Last Tape," a one-act play by Samuel Beckett, and "The JoShow," a variety show featuring several original characters, largely penned by Reeves, now through March 14.
If there had been as many people on stage as there were characters portrayed by Reeves, they would have outnumbered the Saturday night audience. And that's too bad, because Reeves, a veteran San Diego Rep performer, is well worth watching, even though she is far more polished in "Krapp's Last Tape" than in her own work.
In Beckett's 1958 play, Reeves transforms herself into Krapp, an old man with gray, unkempt hair and mustache. As Krapp sits in a small, disorderly office, designed and lit with musty gloom by Jorge Estrada, his attention is fixed on a tape recorder on which he has recorded the story of his life over the years. Much of the narrative comes from the tape; most of the action comes from Krapp's reaction to it. And while Reeves' raspy Irish brogue is arresting, it is the subtle way she listens and half-listens, falls into reveries and snaps out of them, that wrenches the audience.
The sound design by Jody Cramer provides a double echo for the taped and live voices, lending the play just enough of the surreal to make it haunting.
In "The JoShow," Reeves gets to don a few more costumes and wigs as she plays seven new characters. Some of the more charming include a hapless team of auto mechanics, an evangelist who "don't want to hear no jingling of little coins" when she passes around the collection plate, and Buttsky, a character created when Reeves rests on her shoulders with her legs over her face--leaving her rear end thrust toward the audience like a face, with an eye pasted at the top of each cheek.
Reeves has an undeniable comic flair, but in "The JoShow" she is not her own best writer. Her most consistently funny piece is the only one she did not script--the evangelist. While many of the others have the potential to be much better (by virtue of being loonier and more inspired), her good jokes are invariably dragged down by bad ones. The only fault with the otherwise fine direction by Sherryl Nova is that she obviously likes this material too much to do the needed trimming. Which is a shame, because there's a lot of gold hidden in this performance, and it would be nice to see more of it come out.
"KRAPP'S LAST TAPE"
By Samuel Beckett.
By Jo Ann Reeves with Larry Hendricks.
Directed by Sherryl Nova. Set and lighting, Jorge Estrada. Sound, Jody Cramer. With Jo Ann Reeves. At 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through March 14. At the Sixth Avenue Playhouse, 1620 6th Ave., San Diego.