BWW Review: Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston Premieres with Pinter
Written by Harold Pinter, Directed by Shana Gozansky; Scenic & Light Design, Luke Sutherland; Sound Design, Ed Young; Costume Design, The Company; Stage Manager, Kate Rourke; Fight Choreographer, Angie Jepson
Performances through March 17 by Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston, Deane Hall, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com, www.bridgerepofboston.com
The Lover was written and first presented in 1963, but as the inaugural production of Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston, Harold Pinter's one-act play feels fresh and timely, as well as extremely intimate. In the cozy confines of Deane Hall, forty chairs flank the performance space where McCaela Donovan and Joe Short act out their steamy cat and mouse games, under the able direction of Shana Gozansky.
Attired in bathrobes and wearing sleep masks, the couple sits like mannequins awaiting the arrival of the audience. Recorded music ("Time is On My Side") signals the action to begin and they rise in synch to dress in nearly matching outfits, playfully shooting sidelong glances at each other. It is an ordinary morning in the lives of Sarah and Richard, with the usual rituals of brushing teeth, goodbye kisses, and chit chat about the day. He asks, "Is your lover coming today?" and she replies, "Mmnn," and then we recall that, ah, yes, this is Pinter. Donovan and Short play the scene lightheartedly, as if such a dialogue between husband and wife is the most natural thing in the world.
Of course, even for the stiff upper lipped British, the infidelity eventually becomes problematic in order to create the conflict within the drama, and it is exciting to watch Donovan and Short achieve the transformation in their characters. At first, her chirpy housewife merely changes her shoes for her afternoon delight, but her demeanor and costume heat up for subsequent encounters with her lover. When he threatens to end their affair, her desperation is evident not only in her verbal pleas, but also in the speed and tone of voice she employs. When Richard reaches the end of his rope, Short quickly makes us forget his earlier amiability as he becomes forceful and snide. A relationship that was once playful morphs into something fiery and menacing.
Briefly interrupting the tension, almost as if it were a commercial break, John the Milkman (Juan C. Rodriguez looking like the Good Humor man, dressed all in white) surreally dances into the audience ("Hey, Big Spender") to deliver a crate of milk, eggs, and clotted cream. He rings Sarah's doorbell, but, expecting her lover, she purchases only milk and hurriedly sends him away. Toting a six pack of beer, "Max" swaggers in a moment later, wearing jeans, a sleeveless chambray shirt, and a bandana. Sarah brings out a tray of Twinkies and suggestively bites into one before smooshing it into his mouth. Their foreplay continues with an African drum ritual prior to their discreetly ducking behind heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes for some appropriate moaning.
Pinter is known for the rhythm inherent in his works, crafted by a combination of words, pauses, and silences. Gozansky and designers Luke Sutherland (Scenic/Lighting) and Ed Young (Sound) make brilliant use of effects - lights fading down and up, ticking clocks - to stage the play like a piece of music. The actors are the instruments of the orchestra and they give virtuosic performances. Nothing is lost by the choice to forego British accents; in fact, the lack of dialect adds to The Lover's relevance some fifty years after its debut on another continent. Producing Artist Olivia D'Ambrosio says that Bridge Rep plans to deliver "great productions rooted in top-notch acting." To borrow her penchant for sports metaphors, I'd say they're one for one.