Theatre Mirror Reviews - "No Manís Land"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


by Harold Pinter
directed by David Wheeler

Hirst Ö Paul Benedict
Spooner Ö Max Wright
Foster Ö Henry David Clarke
Briggs Ö Lewis J. Wheeler

Harold Pinterís NO MANíS LAND, at the A.R.T., leans heavily upon the Pinteresque than on his unexplained plots: Hirst and Spooner, two old men, have met by chance over drinks --- the former is a successful, dulled author; the later, a scruffy, failed poet. Hirst invites Spooner into his home to continue drinking and to co-habit a No Manís Land of nothingness; Foster and Briggs, two younger men, serve and threaten their elders. Whether Hirstís home is really a tomb, whether Hirst and Spooner really do know one another, whether Foster and Briggs are Cocteauís angels of death or Sartreís bellboys from hell depend upon how much effort you spend in sorting it all out (you can always cut to the chase and declare it all Brilliant). ďI have been through this before,Ē muses Spooner and so have Mr. Pinter and his audiences; on the night I attended, Mr. Pinterís familar menace was warmly greeted as if it were an old friend --- ďa matinee, a Pinter playĒ sings Mr. Sondheimís Joanne --- this once Angry Young Man, turned entertainer.

After A.R.T.ís hideous take on THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, its NO MANíS LAND might well be a night at the Huntington: J. Michael Griggsí large, handsome setting, ominous with wood, is free of distortion; the actors do not become Grotesques and there is even an intermission. Unfortunately, David Wheelerís direction is also in the Huntington manner, skating over the monsters beneath the ice, and without those hinted depths all that elliptical dialogue dissolves to mere chatter (remember that Mr. Pinter took the tea-time cadences of the English voice and turned them inside out). Max Wright makes a meal out of Spoonerís opening monologue, wandering about when he should be clinging to Hirst like a succubus, but he limbers up for his closing one which becomes the cry of a rudderless soul. Paul Benedictís Hirst is an agreeable host, no more, no less; I couldnít help feeling that Mr. Bentley from THE JEFFERSONS sitcom had grown older and dottier (oddly, that TV credit isn't listed in Mr. Benedictís program-bio). In Edwardian days, Lewis J. Wheeler might have been a matinee idol --- never underestimate charm in the theatre --- though I sense Mr. Wheeler will play Young Men, friendly or sinister, for years to come with as little fire or passion as he does now; his Briggs features the Cockney glottal stops that have been uttered, thrice before. Henry David Clarke captures the British flippancy familiar to PBS viewers; having the right orchestration, Mr. Clarke makes his Foster the most striking characterization --- to have him unexpectedly appear in a powder blue suit, carrying Hirstís walking boots and smiling like a demented nanny, hints at what Mr. Pinter was once all about.

"No Manís Land" (12 May -10 June)
64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 547-8300

THE THEATER MIRROR, New Englandís LIVE Theater Guide