Sat 30 May, 2009
Tags: 4 STARS, Curious Theatre Branch, Harold Pinter, the side project theatre
Three’s Company was the most formulaic and unrealistic TV show I ever loved. Let me sum up an episode, any episode:
1) One of the three roommates overhears part of a conversation and misconstrues everything.
2) Double entendres abound as the misconstruction is perpetuated.
3) Realizing that the eavesdropping roommate has the wrong idea, someone intervenes at the last possible second.
The formulaic and unrealistic part of this structure is the intervention, the clarifying of the misunderstanding. Real life is replete with partial communication, miscommunication, misinterpretation, parallel conversations, double-talk, and unintended double entendre. We argue with our loved ones about the same things over and over forever without resolution. We speak half-thoughts that taper off into silence. We start projects that we never finish, yet never completely abandon. Real life is not logical; real life is absurd — one premise, an ellipsis, and a conclusion. A Harold Pinter script contains more ellipses than a Love Is… anthology. Pinter’s The Caretaker, presented by The Curious Theatre Branch, is a masterfully acted testament to the absurdity of the real.
The Caretaker takes place in a single junk-filled room, and the tiny storefront Side Project Theatre could not be a more appropriate venue. Aston, a soft-spoken, barely communicative young man, brings home a transient, Davies, to his junked-up room in an empty house he is supposed to be converting into apartments for his brother, Mick. Aston invites the transient, Davies, to move in. Davies is faced with competing narratives from Aston and Mick but lacks the cognitive ability to parse them out or to synthesize a single reliable narrative out of them. Most of the scenes are between either Aston and Davies, or Mick and Davies; generally, in the scenes with all three characters, Mick and Aston leave Davies out of their conversation.
The Curious Theatre Branch makes a bold choice by opening the show with Mick alone in that junked-up room, seated on Aston’s half-stripped bed. Silence. Jeff Bivens plays Mick as attentive as a meerkat in this scene; he is clearly observing, listening, thinking – about what, though? When he hears Aston and Davies approach, he scurries out of the room and is not seen again until nearly the end of Act I. Beginning the show with one of Pinter’s famous pauses — even before any dialogue — moderates, lowers Mick’s threat level for the audience but keeps it intact for Davies. For this intimate performance space, it is a brilliant choice that transforms the audience into a gapers’ block rather than part of the pileup.
In the opening, when Aston and Davies enter the junkroom a moment after the silent Mick leaves (the air still warm from Mick’s presence), Aston speaks almost in a whisper, almost in a drone –- almost, but not quite. Colm O’Reilly pulls the audience toward him with this voice; we sit on the edge of our seats listening to his sparse statements, afraid that his voice will lose its seemingly feeble strength and drift off into the mumbles. As the dilettante Aston, Colm O’Reilly is always calm but never reassuring, inorganic but never mechanical — detached from his own life.
Jeff Bivens makes Aston’s brother Mick something of an archetypal trickster. A lesser actor could have lost the exquisite down-tempo rhythm of this production through playing Mick as a hammy half-assed Robin Williams impression. With occasional mania more reminiscent of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, Jeff Bivens teeters dangerously upon the precipices of Mick’s foibles (smugness, condescension, quickness to anger) without ever falling prey to them.
Beau O’Reilly. Beau O’Reilly plays the transient Davies as if Davies were the Devil himself, only completely without cunning. Davies’s attempts at guile are transparent. Davies is easily stonewalled by the low hum of Aston’s word or two; he demurs at or shies from the least show of belligerence from Mick. Beau O’Reilly imbues Davies with a toddler-like faith in his own bullshit, and a toddler’s particular brand of somehow endearing selfishness.
Three actors. Three acts. Three hours. Curious Theatre Branch’s engaging production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker is must-see theatre. Colm O’Reilly, Jeff Bivens, and the incomparable Beau O’Reilly crackle onstage — as slowly as a dying bonfire. This cast of three needs no one else to rush in and set everything right — no deus ex machina, no smirking Ralph Furley; real life never has a denouement at the Regal Beagle.
This past Christmas Eve, Harold Pinter gave the world his final ellipsis. How fitting that Curious Theatre Branch chose to produce The Caretaker — Pinter’s first commercial success –- at this time. If Curious Theatre Branch’s production of The Caretaker is meant as Chicago theatre’s eulogy of Pinter, then Pinter was respected and well loved indeed.
(“The Caretaker” runs through June 28 at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis. (773) 508-0666)