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A CurtainUp Review
By David Lohrey
Edward Bond is not a well-known playwright to American audiences. He belongs to that rather large group of English playwrights who are produced and published to great acclaim but never seem to make it across the Atlantic.
Saved, Bond's most famous play, landed a spot on a recent list of the top 20 plays of the 20th century selected by theatre professionals in a survey by The Royal National Theatre in London. Produced originally in 1965, Saved, whatever its artistic merits, holds a prominent place in theatre history due to the controversy surrounding a single scene which shocked English audiences and outraged government censors. That scene, in which an unseen infant in a pram is stoned to death by a group of louts, continues to be one of the most haunting and memorable in contemporary theatre.
But Saved is important beyond the shock value of that single scene. Indeed, it takes its place in a long line of British plays boasting a sort of theatrical hyper-realism, beginning with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) and continuing right up to the present with such works as Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies. In short, it is and will remain a classic kitchen sink drama.
Director Bart DeLorenzo has outdone himself with this fine production of this difficult play, bringing it to life while raising artistic standards for Los Angeles 99-Seat theatres. The cast is superb, collectively offering one of the finest performances this year. It is the best local production I have seen since Mike Leigh's Ecstasy, produced two years ago at the Odyssey Theatre.
The play centers on a set of loveless relationships that are merely circumstantial. A rather na´ve, colorless Len (Christian Leffler) comes home with a rather callous, if fetching, Pam (Ames Ingham). What promises to be a one-night stand quickly turns into a crude game of fake groans and cries as they attempt to taunt Pam's nosey step-father Harry (Don Oscar Smith). Faking and posing seem to be the only method of communication between these lower-class Londoners who seem to fall into bed more out of boredom than from love. In the context of the play, the stoning scene is not particularly shocking. Neither violence nor sex seems to have any meaning. Asking why they did it or do it makes no sense once Bond has established that none of the characters partake of purposeful action.
No sooner has Len moved in with Pam than her mother (Pamela Gordon) and step-father than Pam takes up with another one of the street louts named Fred (Nick Offerman). She soon has his baby, but is no more able to take care of it than she is herself. When Fred and his pals decide that throwing lighted matches and stones into the pram might be more interesting than fishing and smoking fags, we find ourselves deep into the world of The Clockwork Orange
. It has to be said that each of the street thugs is played brilliantly, beginning with Nick Offerman who possesses a real stage presence. The sexiness of violence is explained by Offerman's special charm. But Mark Salamon's Pete, Leo Marks' Barry, and Adrian A. Cruz's Colin inhabit their characters with a marvelous combination of victim and victimizer. We can see that each tormentor knows what it is to be tormented and hence his fleeting glee at the sight of another's pain. To truly understand the expression 'the banality of evil,' see this play.
Bond writes street patter well, but his real genius is in capturing the hell of having to listen to it. In one brilliant scene, Pam and Len go at each other over a lost radio program guide, and as one listens to Pam needle Len, we begin to wonder if he doesn't envy the dead baby. Bond creates a special world where survivors and victims are undifferentiated.
This play opened last year at the Evidence Room and is back by popular demand. It seems especially suited to the theatre's new space in downtown LA. . I've seen it twice now, and it just gets better and better.