South Stream Productions is currently revisiting Harold Pinter’s 1960 play, The Caretaker, at Common Ground Theatre–an excellent choice of play for the small, actor-driven enterprise. The three-man, one-scene, tragi-comic drama provides demanding roles for John Honeycutt, Brook North and Ryan Brock, and under Jaybird O’Berski’s direction, they mesmerize in this bleak examination of shifting power relationships.
Pinter’s script was set in post-WWII England, and has been modified here with American place names and given a 1970s milieu. It takes place in a dim, grubby apartment so full of broken stuff and miscellaneous parts that the characters must shift things around constantly to move through the space. This heaving and tossing contributes greatly to the sensation of imbalance created by the changing relationships among the characters as their perceptions of each other change or clarify. The three acts are merged here into one, a long pitiless see-sawing which ultimately reaches stasis. O’Berski’s acute direction and timing do justice to Pinter’s nuances, and his stringent absurdity. As is O’Berski’s wont, there is the bare minimum of separation between “stage” and audience–the darkness of this little world, its chaos and confusion, is all over the viewer like the funky smells of old stuff and worn shoes emanating from it.
The apartment is inhabited by Aston, played by the tall and large Brook North in a belted leather coat, aviator shades and a floppy wig. Aston doesn’t have a lot to say, generally, and it’s clear from the beginning that he’s not quite right, although big and strong. When he finally does tell a story, it becomes the emotional center of the play. North beautifully reveals the man behind Aston’s abstracted, affectless exterior, the soft vulnerable core so well wrapped in coat and dark glasses.
The play opens with his return to the apartment with a talkative homeless man, Davies, who Aston has just rescued from a bar fight. John Honeycutt’s performance as Davies is outstanding. Strict verisimilitude might require somewhat more dirt ingrained on his clothes and skin, but Honeycutt has caught the unnerving mixture of groveling hostility, pitiable boasting and outraged pride that one finds in long-homeless men. He exhibits their feral cunning that combines false innocence with instinctual jockeying for self-advantage, and that makes taking in strays such a dangerous business. Aston wants to hire him as caretaker of the apartment building.
Just when Davies has begun to think that he can switch this situation around, from the being the visitor there on charity to being the man in charge, in pops Aston’s brother Mick–gorgeously played by Ryan Brock in his swaggering explosive mode. Turns out it is Mick’s building–and he wants to hire Davies as caretaker. Naturally, this leads Davies to attempt to play the brothers off against each other, and to the funniest of the miscommunications with which the story is rife–later Mick says, no–he wanted a decorator, not a caretaker. The whole play pushes at the problems of saying what one means, and of hearing what others say.
Another motif runs through the work, that of insiders and outsiders, or “foreigners.” Who belongs together, and who is “other?” Who’s crazy, who’s normal? Who’s playing on your team, and will they defect? In the end, Pinter takes a position…but it could shift.
I saw the matinee on January 4. The show continues tonight, Jan. 8, through the 10th at 7:30 p.m., and on the 11th at 2 p.m., and again at the same times Jan. 15-18.