Pinterís Mirror, three plays by Harold Pinter. Directed by Eric Tucker.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"(Pause...hold for laugh. Twitch. Fidget. Fumble.)"
Harold Pinter taught us to wait for it. An old English theatrical line, once even used by Noel Coward in a one-act play from the "Tonight at 8:30" group, the concept of "wait for it" is the driving force behind the relationships of all three sets of characters in this intriguing, thoughtful and humorous evening of plays at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Written over a twenty-three year time period, interspersed with his better known full length plays, "A Slight Ache" written in 1957, "Family Voices" from 1980 and "Victoria Station" composed in 1981 make an intriguing evening of theater for three well-cast actors. Two of them are old acquaintances to Shakespeare audiences in this region, the husband and wife actors Elizabeth and Malcolm Ingram; the third is in his first season with this company, Stephen Pilkington.
Similarly new to the company is the director Eric Tucker.
Conceived to be produced for little money, the set for these three plays consists of five chairs, a table and an ottoman. Each play requires a single costume for each actor. Much is achieved with lighting effects by Greg Solomon who makes a great deal out of window gobos and area lighting. The first half of the evening, in 56 minutes, is "A Slight Ache" and the other two plays comprise the second half at forty-two minutes.
In the first play, Flora and Edward sit in their garden having morning tea. Their chatter is typically Pinteresque with lengthy pauses as each one either stares at the other or completely ignores the other oneís presence. Then a third character, a matchseller outside their garden gate, attracts their attention and the true inner essence of Pinter begins to be seen. These are not just two quirky, funny older folks; these are deeply troubled, extremely human figures who cannot figure out how to continue in their ritualistic paths without some major change in their relationships to each other and to the world outside their gate. They invite the stranger in and the fun begins, or alters at any rate, into something frighteningly funny.
Not unlike "The Caretaker" or "The Homecoming" or 1958's "The Dumbwaiter" this play takes in more than a stranger. Originally written as a radio play, the text with its myriad pauses for effect or for effectiveness provides an inestimable number of clues to the identity and purpose of the matchseller standing constantly at the coupleís outer door. With all its descriptive language the physical presence of the matchseller makes the play into something startling and too real.
Ingram-femme is perfection as the verbally abused wife who knows her place but who emerges suddenly as a minx and a flirt, then a mother, then a step-mother and finally into the effervescent bride. Most brides are unaccustomed to the reality of their mates and Flora, in Ingramís hands, has two men she must regard in this manner. She handles it without a flaw. Her beauty becomes a hard asset to ignore as she delights in her new mate, hardly the mature intellectual who is her legal husband, but certainly the receptive blank page of a mind she needs.
Ingram-homme could not have chosen more perfectly the quick changes of moods Edward suffers. Argumentative, then charming; impulsive and reclusive simultaneously, yet instantly repulsive and inquisitive when necessary he moves in and out of near-psychotic states with ease and alacrity. It is his coming to grips with the realities he creates out of whole cloth about his strange visitor that drives this particular dramatic bus. He is the center of the play, and there is nothing calm or centering about his rationale for actions.
Stephen Pilkington, new to these Lenox stages, is the Matchseller, a character who acts with his hands, body and head, occasionally with his eyes, but never with a verbal voice; his voice is in his movement and he speaks loudly after the longest Pinter silences imaginable.
Pilkington comes into his own in the second half of the show, as the "lost" son of a nasty and possessive mother in "Family Voices" and as the lost cabdriver in "Victoria Station." He is paired with Elizabeth Ingram in the first and with Malcolm in the second.
In "Family Voices" she plays the distancing mother whose letters to her missing son are taut and empiric. Her face often expresses more than Pinterís words would do if heard without the eyes and mouth expressing themselves. Even her gestures speak through the silences that surround her. Similarly Pilkingtonís restless soul of a son, finding himself a new and quirky family, uses gestures and facial expressions to prove the lies he spouts in his letters home. What happens to those letters and to the people to whom they are addressed is Pinterís joyous realm. He takes them, and us, to unusual places in this play.
It is followed by a play that must surely have been written as a curtain-raiser, a piece to open an evening usually followed by a longer, though not necessarily full evening, play. Here Mr. Ingram takes on the role of a taxicab company dispatcher who cannot get his fleet under control and who must deal with a drive who seems to have gone mad. The driver claims to be parked under a London structure that was demolished long ago. But hold on, this isnít a science fiction play. Or is it? In its curious psychology it could pass as a Twilight Zone episode, one of the zany ones where everyone seems to act alone without anyone else being a part of his particular world.
Both men are hilarious in their roles. Eric Tucker has directed this in two dimmed areas of light, joined only by blackness. Isolated from one another as the situation demands, they are also separated by the worlds they each inhabit, a realistic and caustic world and one where romantic fantasy abounds. As with his other two plays, director Tucker makes the most of the moments where no one speaks. He escorts his actorsí characters on three unseen leashes and they each know instinctively where he would like them to squat.
Pinterís Mirror makes an evening of theater into a time warp experience where the audience gets to jump into a conversation filling the gaps with Mr. Cowardís witty repartee, but silently, just the way we know Pinterís men and woman are doing it. It doesnít matter if we find the same lines as Pinterís people; we all fill in the gaps as we see fit. What matters is they constantly surprise us and lead us down those garden paths that are right for them, even if they arenít appropriate for us.
Malcolm Ingram as Edward; photo: Kevin Sprague
Stephen Pilkington and Elizabeth Ingram as Matchseller and Flora; photo: Kevin Sprague
Stephen Pilkington as Voice 1; photo: Kevin Sprague
Pinterís Mirror plays at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theater on the campus of Shakespeare and Company, 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA through August 2. For complete schedules and to order tickets ($12-$48) call the box office at 413-637-3353 or try on line firstname.lastname@example.org.