a kate west review
written by Harold Pinter, directed by Matt Gottlieb
at the Zephyr Theatre,
running February 12 -
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.