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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
No Man's Land
Somehow I managed to miss the original Broadway production in 1975 which starred Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. I can only imagine the kind of chill-enhanced rapport must have been created by those two titans of the British stage. I did, however, catch the Broadway revival in 1994 with Christopher Plummer and Jason Robards, an event that is still, if vaguely, etched in my brain. So what a treat it is to see two such fine, but less illustrious actors as Edmund Genest and Sherman Howard immerse themselves so splendidly in this wonderfully dark comedy.
Genest, who has been laudably prominent in fifteen seasons at STNJ, plays Hirst, the alcoholic, slightly effete, well-to-do author. Sherman, who has been displaying his engagingly bearish presence in a wide range of the classics for the past six seasons, plays Spooner, the down-at-his heels poet. They have been matched perfectly by Monte, who is marking her first return to the Pinter canon since she directed The Homecoming in 1975. This production marks the first Pinter play to be staged at STNJ in fifteen years. As a fan, I think it's fair to say that it has been much too long. Pinter's elevation when awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, offered further proof of him as "a modern classic. "
Without a doubt, Monte has delivered a most commendable production of this most delectably and devilishly wordy and worthwhile play. My almost immediate response was that Monte is not nervous about keeping the tempo and the tone of Pinter's carefully orchestrated tensions in high relief. I can't recall a moment that I wasn't hanging on to every bit of nuance in the performance, particularly the way all the characters (there are four of them) move about almost stealthily in a reality that is wavers between the mystifying and the blunt.
While posturing can be deplorable, it is actually the backbone of both characters, each of whom wallow both scarily and humorously within their own conceits. How exciting to watch them as they appear to trade their deviously enigmatic behavior back and forth. The play shifts boldly and dramatically in the second half so that what we have previously supposed and presumed is now redefined and saying to us, so you thought you had us figured out.
The core of the play consists mainly of random chatter between two old codgers who may or may not be long-time friends, may or may not be lying to each other, and may or may not be arch enemies or old romantic rivals. Some of it is suggestively sinister, some of it playfully baiting, some of it downright hilarious, but all of it suspenseful.
Evidently the wealthy Hirst has met the shabbily attired Spooner at a pub in Hampstead Heath and invited him back to his home (nicely invoked by set designer Adam Miecielica) for more discourse, more drinking and possibly a little whathaveyou. A lot of whiskey, vodka and champagne goes down the hatch as both men dredge up a lot of memories. . . or rather cleverly veiled deceptions. Certainly they have more of an agenda than is left to their spoken words. All the while Hirst, whose erudition was once celebrated with regularity at his home, periodically falls and looses consciousness. Our enjoyment comes in trying to figure out which of the two will attain his goal and get the better of the other. That neither may succeed is almost beside the point.
Subject to seizures, Hirst is attended by Foster (Derek Wilson) and Briggs (Paul Mullins) two slickly thuggish male servants with their own mischief in mind. In view of the stunning and tantalizing suggestiveness that comes through in the performances of Wilson and Mullins, another personal dynamic is set in motion. This is one play in which the old cliché about Pinter's pauses have been given a rest. For the rest, you will be hooked by the luster of Pinter's language and by the four performers who deliver it in style.
Editor's Note: For more about Harold Pinter and links to his works reviewed at Curtainup, check out our Pinter Backgrounder.