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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Time has been kind to the play -- deepening the enigma in the hesitating, often repetitive dialogue which has added the word Pinteresque to our theatrical vocabulary. It remains fascinating to watch and a challenge to actors. And so, never mind if you've already seen it in another incarnation -- the popular film, now a "best video renter" with Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge; the original London or Broadway stage versions; or some other well done regional production like the one I saw in the Berkshires just a few seasons ago (see link). David Leveux's cinematic, visually stunning new production is provocative enough and has enough star power and sexual sizzle for a fresh and thoroughly satisfying hour and a half.
If there's a standout in the outstanding cast, it's Liev Schreiber as Jerry, the lover. His face is a mask, but one that reveals passion, irritation, worry, insecurity. His mastery of the special requirements of Pinter's dialogue are extraordinary. Looking just a little like a young Pinter, he exudes magnetism.
The French Juliette Binoche (she won an Oscar best supporting actress award for The English Patient) is even lovelier in person than on screen. She has mastered English sufficiently so that it's not a big stretch to imagine her having come to London as a student and meeting and marrying an Englishman. Consequently her Gallic charm is a plus and in no way detracts. While Binoche too has caught the Pinteresque beat, she is just a tad too fragile and vulnerable for the underlying toughness of Emma to come through as convincingly as Jerry's conflicting attitudes are made clear by Schreiber. What is perfectly clear is the chemistry between the two lovers. Their loves scenes create more heat than many of the more revealing scenes currently popular on both stage and screen.
John Slattery, the least well known member of the cast, brings a sharp edge to the triangle. His Robert subtly guards his hurt of double betrayal with caustic humor. Yet that hurt and anger is close enough to the surface persona not to be missed; for example, in the painful scene when the affair is out in the open, at least between husband and wife, his instinctive question about their son's paternity is followed by his sarcastic "I have always liked Jerry -- more than I have you --maybe I should have had an affair with him myself." His interaction with Schreiber is equally affecting. It's worth noting that both Slattery and Schreiber speak with convincing and consistent British accents, for which dialect coach Kate Wilson probably deserves a round of applause.
The staging is as impeccable as the acting. The above mentioned Shakespeare & Company production had the advantage of a space which had the audience seated within touching range of the actors which offset the bare bones set dictated by a tight budget. Mr. Leveaux, on the other hand, has geared his production to the high-ceilinged grandeur of the new American Airlines theater. It's elegant without being overfurnished. The various rooms in which the nine scenes take place have very little furniture but the look is nevertheless sleek, rich and is, courtesy of David Weiner, bathed in luxurious changes of light. Since the costumes are as much part of the atmosphere as the props, it's easy to see why Rob Howell designed both sets and costumes.
The very first scene establishes the cinematic aura by having Emma sitting at stage rear. When the part of the stage on which she is seated circles around, she is brought forward as in a camera close-up. Most effective! To emphasize this feeling titles for each scene are projected on a royal blue pull-up curtain which comes down for a minute or so between scenes. Thus, while Leveaux has omitted an intermission, this dropped curtain in effect creates seven semi-intermissions, which, like the Pinter pauses in the dialogue, prompt us to contemplate and probe what's going on. Even after that curtain drops on the final scene which is really the beginning of everything, with Binoche in breathtaking crimson velvet, you'll be left with plenty to think about.
Interestingly, this review is being posted together with one another Pinter revival -- this one in London, starring the "Great Gambon" and with a quite different set by the same set designer: The Caretaker
For more details about the plot see our review of the Berkshire production of Betrayal