note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Beverly Creasey
Pinter fans will be happy to find two of the master’s acerbic one-acts at New Repertory Theatre this month (thru Feb. 10th). We’re happy, as well, that Pinter finally was recognized for a Nobel Prize in 2005. The two plays are connected not by sequence, as THE LOVER was written thirty years before ASHES TO ASHES, but by their brutal take on the ‘sanctity’ of modern marriage.
Pinter loves to bare the savage underbelly of civilized society---and he does so succinctly in THE LOVER when a parlor game, not unlike the vicious games in Albee’s WHO’S AFRIAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (Each written at about the same time a continent apart), begins to blur fantasy and reality, with cruel consequences.
Rachel Harker is the quintessential, sophisticated British wife, arch and a bit condescending in attitude--(Insert a Pinter pause here) --- until her husband is out the door. Stephen Russell is her upright, terribly distant husband but when push comes to shove, watch out! Ian O’Connor has a clever cameo as a red herring, in cream sauce.
Chip Schoonmaker’s ‘60s costumes are spot on, right down to the six-inch, blood red heels Harker forgets to take off before her proper husband comes home. Jamie Whoolery’s late afternoon light bathes director Rick Lombardo’s simple, elegant set in cool shadows. In retrospect, THE LOVER seems a bit tame but it must have knocked the wind out of a few matrimonial sails when it opened. Lombardo brilliantly pairs it with the far more visceral ASHES TO ASHES---which he directs as an intimate, no holds barred confessional.
ASHES TO ASHES will take your breath away. Harker’s character, at one time, might have been the housewife of the first play. This time she’s slowly slipping away (from tortured memories, alcohol, who knows?) Harker gives us a living portrait of a woman already gone, despite the entreaties (and threats) of her husband (Russell). Her gaze is not quite focused, her frame not quite able to stand. Her voice quavers. Her thoughts scatter. Her emotions are brittle and desperate.
In short Harker gives a tour de force portrait, reminiscent of Mary Ure in OLD TIMES, of a woman no longer able to bear the life she is supposed to be living. Lombardo and company triumph with ASHES. All that’s left at the end of the play is oblivion. Pinter would be so pleased.