BWW Review: THE LOVER AND THE COLLECTION at SHAKESPEARE THEATRE COMPANY
Why begin your 2017-2017 season with one play when two are on offer? Shakespeare Theatre Company's (STC) 2017-2018 season opens in the Lansburgh Theatre with a double-bill of Tony Award and Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter's one-act plays The Lover (1961) and The Collection (1962).
In England, the Lord Chamberlain's office still had the ability to censor plays until 1968, long before The Lover and The Collection premiered. Undeterred, Pinter subverted the authorities through his use of poignant pauses, ambiguity, and a general sense of menace; a style that came to be known as Pinteresque.
In Pinter's The Lover, a prim and proper suburban couple, Sarah (Lisa Dwan) and Richard (Patrick Kennedy), placidly discuss Sarah's lover over breakfast. An innovative absurdist, Pinter happily constructs one reality only to topple it a moment later. And he'll do it over and over again, always keeping his audience on their toes.
Set in the West End of London, The Collection teems with implicit threats and pregnant pauses. Dress designers Bill (Kennedy) and Stella (Dwan) have upset their tepid relationships by conducting an affair. Later, Stella's husband James (Kennedy) stands menacingly over a toppled Bill. Lurking in The Shadows, Bill's posh boyfriend Harry (Jack Koenig) calmly watches the scene unfold. And all the while it remains unclear: did Bill and Stella actually sleep together? Typical Pinter!
For The Lover and The Collection STC has assembled an absolutely stellar cast. Dwan vacillates effortlessly between the prim and proper physicality of a 1950s suburban homemaker and the lithe vixen popularized by the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Despite being limited to chaste outward displays of affection Dwan and Kennedy exude an explicit sexual dynamism. A versatile actor, Kennedy is so adept at role transformation that you may lose track of who's who (hint, hint).
Director Michael Kahn takes Pinter's famous pauses and creates a series of salacious, voyeuristic tableaux. Scenic Designer Debra Booth's talent for atmospheric, precision design compliments Pinter's uniquely ephemeral brand of theatricality.
Master Costume Designer Jane Greenwood possesses a slight edge when it came to designing for this production: she grew up in the 1960s. Greenwood, keen on avoiding "gimmicky looks," used vintage pieces from the 1960s and photos of the actors to inspire her subtle, flattering designs. While her designs date the production, they are essentially a blank canvas upon which the actors can paint their characters.
Originally written as one-hour teledramas for the BBC, The Lover and The Collection ooze Mad Men-era sex appeal. And yes, the BBC is still producing smart drama but why sit at home when STC's The Lover and The Collection is great and playing live just down the road?
Running Time: 2 hours, including a 20-minute intermission