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A CurtainUp Review
The Collection & A Kind of Alaska
By Elyse Sommer
Except that both plays defy a neat summary as to their exact meaning, they have little in common which includes the scenery. Well, I should backtrack here. They do have this in common: Both are expertly directed by Karen Kohlhaas, smartly staged and given Pinter-perfect interpretions by five actors who know how to make those by now well known Pinter pauses speak volumes.
The first and longer piece, The Collection, plays out on a handsome side-by-side set — on one side is an elegantly furnished Belgravia townhouse, on the other a more sleekly modern but equally upscale apartment. The Belgravia house accouterments include a raised up high, recessed shelf filled with blue and white pots which according to one of the characters. "cost at least fifteen hundred a piece" Except for their being there and that observation, Pinter leaves it up to you to figure out any deep meaning to his using this for the play's title.
The scenic prop that immediately establishes the sense of menace that permeates so much of Pinter's work, is a two-dimensional London telephone booth raised above the floor and inside which a shadowy figure is seen. The phone call made by the man in the booth sets off a series of back and forth visits between the two apartments. It seems that the caller is James (Darren Pettie), a man who think that Stella (Rebecca Henderson) his wife and partner in a dress designing company has had a fling with Bill (Matt McGrath), during a business trip. Bill, also a dress designer, seems an unlikely adulterer — at least with a woman, since he's living in the Belgravia house in an obviously homosexual relationship with Harry (Larry Bryggman), a prosperous, older man.
It doesn't take more than a few of those potent pauses and snippets of dialogue to make us realize that both these relationships are fraught with tensions that seem to be waiting for the did-they or didn't-they infidelities to set some sort of violence in motion. Actually, nothing particularly explosive happens but once James connects with Bill and follows up on his announcement that he's coming over a series of conversations about potential infidelities among two couples follows. As James visits Bill, so Bill's partner Harry, visits Stella and it's his cynical realism about his relationship with Bill and James's with Setlla that brings The Collection to a finale which, like so many Pinter play leaves you to figure out not only who did what, but who's going to be the one in the one-up position in each relationship.
More than anything, A Kind of Alaska is a gift to the actress playing this modern day Sleeping Beauty, and Lisa Emery takes that gift and makes the most of it. She gets all the way inside that painfully confused, middle-aged woman whose mind is still that of a sixteen-year-old. When she at one point has a sever Parkinson type tremor attack she does so with such realism that it's frightening to watch.
While Deborah's devoted sister (Henderson now looking quite different than she did in the curtain raiser) and her ex-husband (Bryggman again) who has been Debora's doctor are there to try to ease her re-entry into the world of the living, this is Emery's show and she's magnificent. Kohlhaas again expertly direct , though it would have been a good idea for her to see to it that Lisa Emery's hair was at least a bit more stringy and unkempt.
As The Collection is an easily accessible example of the Pinter style so A Kind of Alaska is a sensitive, almost poetic a playlet. Neither has quite the enduring power of longer plays like The Homecoming, The Caretaker and Betrayal but together they make for an intriging matchup that can be savored as a beautifully acted and staged artifact from the Pinter catalogue.
For more about Harold Pinter's life and work and link to other plays we've reviewed, check out our Pinter Backgrounder.