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A CurtainUp Review
Pinter& Williams: The Lover & 27 Wagons Full of Cotton
by Jenny Sandman

At first glance, Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams seem an unlikely pairing. Pinter is a master of portraying cold, uncomfortable, intimate situations, rife with pauses and stops and things unspoken. Williams, on the other hand, wrote of the lush, heavy, gothic South, of women trapped and oppressed, of hot and mournful nights. But this particular evening of two one-acts, featuring Pinter's The Lover and Williams' 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, brings out the strange similarities between the two plays (and the two playwrights).

The Lover is about a married couple, Richard (Patrick Christiano) and Sarah (Diane Grotke). Sarah has taken a lover and entertains him at home while her husband is at work. But not only is Richard fully aware of the situation, he discusses it with her openly. They blandly discuss her visitor--and his trips to a prostitute--in the same bored tone of voice they use to discuss the weather and the traffic. We then discover that they are actually playing some sort of twisted role-playing game, revealing the play's deeper question: is the lover a separate person or a separate persona? One day, Richard breaks the convention of "the lover," leaving Sarah confused and heartbroken. Will she be able to accept his defection and change the game?

27 Wagons Full of Cotton examines the relationship between Jake (Paul Bolger) and Flora (Colleen de Salvo) in rural Mississippi. One night, while Jake is mysteriously gone, the cotton gin on the neighboring plantation burns down. Jake is subsequently given all those wagons of cotton to gin out, an enormous amount of work that will enable him to remain financially solvent. Flora, his stupid but loving wife, suspects that Jake intentionally burned down the gin, but he beats her until she accepts his alibi that he was actually home the entire night. The next day, when Silva (Patrick Christiano), the gin's owner, pays a visit, Flora blithely lets slip that Jake was gone when the fire broke out, and Silva discovers the truth. Rather than confront Jake, however, he decides to exact his terrible revenge on Flora.

The small company of actors is excellent, their attempts at British and Southern accents notwithstanding. De Salvo is terrific as the giggly and flustered Flora; her nervous mannerisms are a perfect complement to the character. Christiano has a magnetic presence, especially as the brutal Silva, but the strange, flat monotone in which he speaks is at times off-putting. The company's strong performances effectively counterbalance the claustrophobic gloom of the tiny black-box stage. Fortunately, Zina Jasper's direction maximizes what little space is available.

The lighting, sound, and sets are strictly utilitarian, but the few props they have are used to great advantage; the battered green metal porch swing in 27 Wagons perfectly evokes the rural South. Pinter and Williams are both geniuses of the twentieth-century stage. Both plays examine dysfunctional and possibly failing relationships; both must revolve around what is left unsaid, and by the end we suspect, as Yeats said, that "the center cannot hold." By contrasting such different writing styles, the dramaturgical parallels are brought into sharp relief. Pinter/Williams is not a lighthearted bill of fare, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a thought-provoking and well-acted evening of theatre.

For CurtainUp's backgrounders on these two playwrights:
Tennessee Williams
Harold Pinter

THE LOVER By Harold Pinter & 27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON By Tennessee Williams Directed by Zina Jasper
With Paul Bolger, Colleen de Salvo, Patrick Christiano and Diane Grotke
Artwork Design: Michael Knigin
Lighting Design: Sean Doyle
Sound Design: David Lawson
Running time 2 hours and 5 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission
Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 East 24th Street between Park and Lexington; 212-979-5000 x 13 1/09/03-1/26/03
Wed-Sat 8 pm, Sun 3 pm
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on January 15th performance
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