The Caretaker

The Caretaker
a kate west review
written by Harold Pinter, directed by Matt Gottlieb
at the Zephyr Theatre,
7456 Melrose Avenue (between LaBrea and Fairfax), Los Angeles 90046
running February 12 -
March 20, 2005;contact (323) 852-9111

Harold Pinter, brilliant contemporary British playwright, wrote "The Caretaker" in 1960 and has been unstoppable since those early plays. Always sharp, bleak and clever, his works illustrate human alienation and the everyman coping with the harsh modern world.

"The Caretaker" opens with dangerous-looking and surly Mick (Steven Spiro) rifling through a rundown apartment. He runs out when slow-moving Aston (Jaxon Duff Gwillim) enters, bringing home old man Davies (Robert Mandan, of television's "Soap"). The two shuffle in and begin a rather disconnected Pinteresque dialogue, the gist of which is that the old man can stay with Aston for a while, as he is currently homeless. When Aston is away, however, Davies meets the other brother Mick, who greatly intimidates him and a subtle power struggle ensues. Davies tries to play one brother off the other, never knowing for certain which one is actually in charge. Aston has undergone some kind of psychiatric brain washing (a lobotomy is strongly implied), yet in spite of this, the two brothers are fiercely protective of each other. In the end, in spite of each character's plans and dreams, the play concludes precisely the same way it begins, signifying that there is rarely a possibility for change.

Pinter's deliberate pace must be delicately balanced with the energy of the actors, however in this production, Director Matt Gottlieb does not push the actors. Jaxon Duff Gwillim, as the brain foggy Aston has very low energy, which he tries very hard to convey as mentally slow but the danger is that the pacing is deadly slow and at times even boring. Pinter should not be boring. The other two actors are fine; Robert Mandan may be a bit over the top but he is generally quite entertaining and Steven Spiro turns in a fairly conventional performance as the darkly mysterious brother. It is a standard version of a Pinter play, with no obvious insight, yet the playwright's voice is still strong and one comes away with an inkling of a great man's work.

Set Designer Ben Ainlay (also Light Designer) and Costume Designer Susan Chan create a convincingly drab atmosphere with a cluttered, dilapidated apartment and shabby clothes but all that does not compensate for the slow pacing and the fact that the play is over two hours long with two intermissions doesn't help. Still it always nice to hear classical contemporary works acted live so it may not be a total loss.

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Absolutely Nothing In Common

Absolutely Nothing in Common
12 new plays in 2 series (A&B)
a kate west review
the Acting Company at the Laurelgrove Theatre Festival,
Hollywood Court Theatre at 6817 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood
Running Thursdays through Sundays, February 5 - March 13, 2005
Contact (323) 692-8200 and specify either Series A or B

If you've never been to that rather prominent landmark church with the AIDS ribbon on the corner of Franklin and Highland in Hollywood, but always been curious about it, now's your chance. The Acting Company at Laurelgrove presents twelve different opportunities in two series of plays (A & B, running different nights) to take a glimpse into moments of humanity. Twelve scenes, some very short and some long enough to be one acts, showcase little slices of life, depending on the style of each author.

One of the best pieces, running in Series B, is "Allergic to Walnuts," by Michelle Kholos and directed by Gina Collens, a fresh take on the difficulties of dating. Jack Heller and Darlene Young play an older couple who have finally gotten around to a first date. The dialogue is in a slightly absurdist style, but not enough to alienate the audience into not being able to relate to the human truth of the scene. The characters are delightfully odd and the scenario of the two musing about human foibles is greatly entertaining. Well written and economically directed, it is a nice, strong piece to open that evening.

Some scenes do not work as well, however, such as "CeCe and Joey" by Christina Hart and directed by Erik Passoja. Steve Altman and Rita Kane portray two lonely people who meet once a week, he for some company, she for money and end up arguing about breaking routine in a perplexingly pointless manner. The actors do what they can but it is not a very interesting piece.

"The Miraculous Day Quartet" by Mary Steelsmith and directed by Matt Kirkwood is the last piece in both series. With a different cast each night, it is a symphony of people arranged behind musical stands explaining all the random coincidences that prevented them from being present at a momentous event. We do not find out until later what that event was and although dramatic, it comes across rather predictable. Nonetheless, it is probably one of the pieces most often discussed post performance.

Other pieces include "Something for the Boys" by Louis Felder and directed by Jack Heller, "Heart to Heart" by Susan C. Hunter and directed by Sal Romeo, "Daddy's Girl" by Bonnie Summer and directed by Jack Heller, "Off-Hand" by Michel Wallerstein and directed by Portia Doubleday, "Modern Art" written and directed by Christina Hart, "Speed Dating 101" by Jeffrey Davis and directed by Barry Primus, "A Couple of Horses' Asses" by Dave Field and directed by Al Bonadies and "Telegraph Lady" by Steven Levi and directed by Christina Hart. This last piece occurs during World War II and Kara Pulcino is quite strong as the Jersey reformed prostitute (although her scene partner Matt Doherty is a bit weaker).

Actors include Joe Regelbrugge, Devon Reilly, Herschell Sparber, Rob Tepper, Darlene Young, Deborah Austin, Joy Claussen, Christina Hart, Tom O’Keefe, Kaitlin Doubleday, Nameer El-Kadi, Kara Pulcino, Jack Heller, Steve Altman, Rita Kane, Louise Davis, Erik Passoja, Brenda Ballard, Steve Franken, Matt Doherty and also range the gamut of weaker and stronger.

With subjects ranging from coping with Alzheimer's disease to the inevitable agonies of dating, either choice of evening should have at least one appealing thing for everyone. Just as some pieces are longer, some shorter, some are stronger and some weaker. Either way, it is commendable of The Acting Company to showcase new plays and playwrights and offer us a chance to catch up and coming new talent. Read more!