May 24, 2008 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
In 2005 when Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the citation read:
“…who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms…”.
[singlepic=236,320,240,,left]The production of The Caretaker, by Harold Pinter, now playing at the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Unicorn Theatre under the passionate, compassionate and mesmerizing direction of Eric Hill pays homage to that citation.
The play is audacious, chilling, filled with menace, and punctuated with bursts of ironic humor. At the same time it is so fascinating that from its plotless introduction of three characters into the no-man’s land of a cluttered attic in a run-down house in a seedy London district, it is Pinter all the way, magnificently understood by Hill and his three talented and compelling actors.
In a closed space, three disturbed and disturbing characters move through what is not so much plot as situations that rise to crescendos of rage only to subside into seeming moments of deceptive clarity.
Even the play’s title, The Caretaker, is shifting. Does it refer to Aston (Tommy Schrider) of the dead, lobotomized stare, who brings into the cluttered attic room a homeless drifter, Davies, (Jonathan Epstein)?
Or is it Davies who at times is almost a possible caretaker to help Aston caretake?
Or is it, smashing all other perceptions, Mick (James Barry) the menacingly street-smart younger brother of the hapless Aston. Mick, who too has a dream agenda. (As Aston endlessly repairs a toaster plug while waiting to start building his shed. As Davies blathers on about acquiring shoes and recovering his “papers” that have supposedly moldered in Sidcup for fifteen years.)
Mick is intimidating and threatening as he lies supine but mesmerizing at Davies’ feet describing the apartment he will build with “the bedspread with a pattern of small blue roses on a white ground” in which there would live “my brother and me”. Mick, the ultimate caretaker?
The dialog of the play is unpredictable, never flows to stability. It is almost as if the play makes itself up as it goes along. There is constant conflict over space and territory as Hill’s directing changes the pace, tempo and volume of exchanges. And there are the meaningful silences.
The space in which the three are trapped and over which they argue is empty, for all its clutter. There is no real hope in it although they fight for status within it.
All three actors inhabit their characters. As Davies, Epstein is craven but pitiless. His racial hatred of the neighbors surfaces constantly between his ungrateful initial gladness over different shoes to complaints of their being the wrong size or lacking laces of the right color. He brags, he cringes. And he smells. One almost scents the odor beneath his layer upon layer of clothes.
Schrider as Aston mesmerizes with his flat face, his staring eyes. He has been almost erased as a person by his lobotomy. He brings Davies to the attic much as he has brought to it all the junk he has collected. It is something he can do His monlog that ends Act 2 is played directly to the audience and is riveting in its painful account of man’s in- humanity..
Mick is the scariest of the three. Barry sets his character at the play’s beginning, holds our attention with his eyes which see too much. In the “space” game, he dominates but the space over which he rules is empty as a wasteland.
Set designer Jonathan Wentz has created an attic room full of junk but still leaving ample playing space for the very physical dynamics that Hill’s directing brings out in the actors. Light slanting thru the one window (that provides the drafts and rain against which Davies can fitfully but vociferously complain) is dynamically used.
J. Hagenbuckle has created music that troubles the darkness between scenes, music so discordant it is hard to envision instruments making its menacing sounds.
Davies costumes, worn layer upon layer, are the grungiest as befits his vagrant status while Mick’s are black, street- slick and switch-blade scarey. Aston’s suit is nondescript rumpled, but always the same, quiet, non-offensive, as flatly indistinctive as his face. They both tell us nothing. Only the eyes ever speak..
This reviewer found the production to be rewarding and that it fulfilled words Pinter wrote about the playwright he most admired, Samuel Beckett:
“I suddenly felt that his writing was walking through a mirror into the other side of the world which was, in fact the real world… It was Beckett’s own world but had so many references to the world we actually share.”
The current production at the Unicorn is one not to be missed.
The Caretaker runs through June 28. Tickets range from $39 to $44. Students with valid ID receive fifty percent discount. Contact the BTF Box Office at 413-298-5576 or visit their website: Berkshire Theater Festival.
Box Office hours are Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and one hour prior to curtain.