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No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter – Odyssey Theater – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

PINTER WITHOUT PAUSES

 

picture - No Man's LandTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 22, 2009

 

No Man’s Land

now playing at the Odyssey Theater

through December 19

 

Someday some director will stage a revival of a Harold Pinter play that disregards all of Pinter’s famed pauses and prove that they are of no importance whatsoever; that the language alone is what makes Pinter one of the great playwrights of our time. Until then, every  single one of the pauses should not only be honored but must be considered sacred text. It’s in the pauses that the mystery lies. It’s in the pauses that a murderous tension is created. Soften them, as was done in a recent Broadway revival of The Homecoming, and domestication creeps in, and what was once funny and terrifying and slowly revelatory now hovers close to soap opera.  The temptation to make Pinter palatable, as a trend, should be nipped in the bid. Serving Pinter as written is probing enough and remains disturbing precisely because it remains elusive. In the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble production of Pinter’s No Man’s Land, Michael Peretzian’s direction wants to have it both ways and just misses having it either way. It’s a shame because he gets so much right.

 

First, there is Tom Buderwitz’s set which suggests a whole world of North West London excess from its elegant chairs down to its sterling silver tea service to its well-stocked bar which informs us that its inhabitant, Hirst, is either the host of many social affairs or a raging alcoholic, and all of it is contained within the perimeters of the theater’s postage-stamp-sized stage. Then there are Audrey Eisner’s costumes. The textures and colors and cut of Hirst’s outfits are refinement and elegance personified. The subtle seediness of the suit worn by Sooner, Hirst’s guest of a summer night, bespeaks the grunginess of his life and the ill-fitting elegance he still clings to. Bridges and Foster, the two young men who attend to Hirst’s needs, carry with them, whether on duty or not, clothes that fit their bodies with what might be perceived as potent and possibly dangerous homoerotism.

 

The casting is close to perfection. Alan Mandell’s Sooner, looking a bit like Alec Guinness’s Gully Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth, his few strands of hair combed down to the wispiest set of bangs, is the stranger in this strange land; his discomfort is felt keenly at first but, once set at ease, Mandell bites into the juiciness of the role with relish, inhabiting completely the man and the poet in the man, and, more significantly, finding in Pinter’s beautifully calibrated language, the essence of his participation in the pas de quatre for four lost souls that Pinter has created. In his hooded eyes, in his darting looks of fear at his situation, in the pride he manfully arouses in order to gain control of the very same situation, Mandell is the perfect actor for the part. It is a performance not likely to be forgotten by anyone experiencing it. For those who remember the production of the play with Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, one will miss the music the two actors made together, and, while Mandell erases the memory of Gielgud to a great extent, one might wish that Lawrence Pressman, a highly gifted actor, would get a little more under the skin of Hirst, play the violin to Mandell’s rich and vibrant cello with more depth and less finesse. But, if Pressman needs more time to get to the place where Mandell so grandly resides, the two actors playing the elegant thugs – John Sloan as Foster and Jamie Donovan as Briggs – are right on target.

 

But, with everything properly in place, not much happens, and this reviewer ventures the guess that, although all the pauses have not been overlooked, enough of them have been elided in a way that robs the play of the palpable tension that is necessary to help define and clarify the menace that lingers in the room for the period of time in which it exists. It is somewhat present but never fully investigated. Is Sooner really a poet? Were Hirst and Sooner really classmates years earlier? Why did Hirst pick Sooner up and bring him to his house when he is so unresponsive once they are ensconced? Is it his intention to imprison his guest? Are Briggs and Foster lovers? Is this about four men who belong nowhere or is it about a world come unhinged? Is the play wondering in what land man does belong? These are some of the tantalizing questions that should haunt us. It is true that Pinter avoids doling out answers, but Peretzian’s tidy little production doesn’t provide us with the tiny clues that justify our continuing interest in the play as it inches along to its whispered conclusion.

 

Still, No Man’s Land is prime Pinter, and witnessing Mandell taking such inordinate pleasure in appreciating that fact makes it a worthwhile if not ultimately satisfying theater event.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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