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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Lover/The Collection
Both plays deal with relationships in language that is spare and rich, illuminating as well as confusing. What really goes on between lovers and spouses and such ancillary characters as the milkman —a sly reference to an old English joke: "who does your child look like?" answer, "the milkman"— is really unknowable, a mystery.
The Shakespeare Theatre's current double bill is blessed with a perfect cast under director Michael Kahn. Every nuance in Pinter's scripts, among his first in the early 1960's, is illuminated but subtle. Signs of Pinter's brilliance and future themes about communication between partners or — in the lengthy pauses during verbal exchanges, the absence of speech — are all there. So is the wit.
The Lover is about a married couple living outside of London. Richard commutes to his mind-numbing job in the City. His wife, Sarah, stays home. She is having an affair; he sees "a whore" after work. Or? Or what? is this some sort of game the couple plays. We shall never know the truth and that is the point.
Patrick Kennedy as Richard, the husband, is elliptical in his movements and dialogue until he is not. Lisa Dwan as the suburban housewife/mistress is very shrewd in her performance and funny when she turns into a seductress. Her arse-out way of sitting on the sofa and cat-like crawl as she revs up what she thinks is sexy always gets a laugh.
This sort of exaggeration is employed in The Collection too when Patrick Ball as Bill, the younger of two men who live together, doubles down on effeminate poses and mannerisms. Today, the fact that they are a gay couple can be taken for granted so too the hints at another character's bi-sexuality; but in the early 1960's, when the play was written and is set, such matters were only hinted at.
Pinter's very clever dialogue is unmistakable in its meaning. Harry, the considerably older, more erudite, established in society (Jack Koenig), can seem cruel at times in his derision of his housemate. He calls Bill a "slum slug," an epithet that may have been slung at Pinter in his wrong-side-of-the tracks youth. Lisa Dwan's Stella, who works in fashion, "the rag trade," a job that took her out of town, appears to be a cold businesswoman. Yet, we are told that she does not lack passion.
How much is true? Who knows? Not the audience but the intriguing plots and dialogues of both one-acts linger long after the evening ends.
One other character deserves mention: the cat whom Stella, when resting on the sofa after work, places on her stomach and strokes continuously. The perfectly behaved long-haired white cat won the part after beating out several rivals who also auditioned.
From the cat, to the red telephone booth, the Chinese vase collection, the 1960's Scandinavian modern furniture, Stella's shirtwaist dresses and French knot up-do, what you see on stage catches perfectly the aesthetic of the time. Debra Booth is responsible for the scenic design; Jane Greenwood designed the costumes, and Mary Louise Geiger did the lighting.
The Lover/The Collection by Harold Pinter
Directed by Michael Kahn
Cast: Patrick Ball (John/Bill); Lisa Dwan (Sarah/Stella); Patrick Kennedy (Richard/James); Jack Koenig (Harry).
Scenic Designer, Debra Booth
Costume Designer, Jane Greenwood
Lighting Designer, Mary Louise Geiger
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Shakespeare Theatre Company/Lansburgh, 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC. ShakespeareTheatre.org; 202-547-1122.
September 26 to October 29, 2017.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson, October 2, 2017, performance.
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