Friday, October 13, 2017

1960s Low Fidelity

Written by  Brynn Devereaux

Two Harold Pinter classics put marriages on display like meat at the butcher’s

As audience members enter the Lansburgh Theater, they should leave all conceptions of marriage and relationships at the door to prepare for an evening of sex, lies, and deceit. Harold Pinter’s The Lover and The Collection challenges viewers’ ability to deconstruct fantasies into realities and unravel lies into truths. It’s all conveyed with the dialog and silences for which he’s known.

Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn and cast breathe new life into two plays that have the potential to be outdated. Written in the 1960s, The Lover explores sexual infidelity as a form of couples’ therapy, and The Collection explores sexual insecurities as well as relationship dominance versus submission.

The Lover begins with Richard (Patrick Kennedy) cheerfully asking his wife, Sarah (Lisa Dwan),  “Is your lover coming today?” The audience laughs at the couple’s casual talk about their infidelities, but are only clued into the joke when the “lover” later appears as the husband in a rogue’s wardrobe. Viewers will see this as a scintillating way to spice up a married sex life, but the husband sees it as an emasculating act diminishing his role as husband.

As the play unfolds, Richard berates Sarah in the role as lover and husband by calling her “too boney,” “too fat,” and “a whore.” He is uncomfortable with his role and aims to make himself feel better by putting her down. This has the potential to become the plot of a Lifetime movie, but Dwan is strong in her acting and easily becomes the dominant party. She draws him back into their sexual fantasy world with poignant language and the female mystique.

If The Lover is about using infidelity as a way to breathe life into a stale marriage, The Collection explores infidelity as a way to gain dominance over another person. James (Patrick Kennedy) confronts Bill (Patrick Ball), about the alleged affair with his wife, Stella (Lisa Dwan). Bill toys with James by at first by denying the affair and then later by giving him full details. Bill plays a flirtatious game of cat-and-mouse with James until his swank boyfriend, Harry (Jack Koenig), intervenes to force the “truth” out of them.

Harry belittles Bill by saying that he plucked him out of the slums and that he has a “slum mind.” James constantly berates his wife about the affair and suggests that her actions forced him to face his own sexuality (and his attraction to Bill). Ball is evocative with his silences as Bill, and it isn’t hard to believe that all of the characters could fall in love with him. Koenig and Kennedy are subtle but poignant in suggesting their characters insecurities and fears. The language and acting leave the relationships open to interpretation. Do Bill and Stella want to be the dominant partners for a change or just be free them? Are Harry and James afraid of losing their partner or their power?

It is hard to view the plays as being shocking in 2017, but they are plays that will stay with you. Each relationship is open to interpretation for how they came to be and where they will go. Kahn’s directing is face paced and sharp. The sets are visually stunning and the costumes represent 1960 without turning the characters into a parody. In short, this will be an evening well spent.


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