Title: The San Diego Drama King
Author: Dr. Donnie Matsuda
Blogging since: December, 2011
Post Title: The “Pinter” Plays and a “Suite” of Neil Simon Play-lets
Post Date: June 2, 2012
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing a collection of short plays packaged into two neat-and-tidy productions — Two by Pinter at North Coast REP and California Suite at Scripps Ranch Theatre. In response to these short, easily digestible, bite-sized theatrical confections, I decided my review of these two shows should take on the style and structure of the pieces themselves….
First, two plays by Harold Pinter — The Lover and The Dumb Waiter — randomly paired together and directed by North Coast REP’s artistic director, David Ellenstein. It must first be said that Pinter is best known and admired (and sometimes avoided) because of his uncanny ability to create dramatic poetry out of everyday speech. His plays generally take place in a single room, and his works, which blend comedy and drama, often focus on jealousy, betrayal, power, and sexual tension. But with Pinter, it is more about how he says things than what he says that makes his dizzying dialogue so utterly intriguing. Pinter’s language, an oddball mix of lower-class vernacular and high-class wit, peppered with tons and tons of pregnant pauses, has been described as “Pinteresque” and suggests a cryptically mysterious situation that is undermined by unspoken intrigue and imbued with hidden menace. If that last line didn’t tickle your fancy or get your theatrical adrenaline flowing, then perhaps Pinter isn’t the playwright for you.
The Lover introduces us to an elegant, middle-class couple who live in a detached house near Windsor. On the surface, they seem to have it all — a nice home, comfortable careers, and great chemistry — until we learn that their marriage is rather lacking in the bedroom. The play begins with them openly bantering back and forth about their sexual (ahem) indiscretions as husband Richard (a winning Mark Pinter) nonchalantly quips, “Is your lover coming today?” and his wife Sarah (a fetching Elaine Rivkin) replies dreamily, “Yes.” But don’t worry about potential inequality in this 1960s adulterous arrangement because Richard has his own “slut” that he’s been seeing on the side. It is all talked about with such flippant flair and anchored with underlying ambiguity and ambivalence that it makes one stop and think about what roles reality and fantasy play in intimate relationships. And, of course, this being Pinter, there is a juicy twist that cinches the ending and puts a decided denouement on this hour-long pedantic and playful pas-de-deux…
The mood is much lighter over at Scripps Ranch, where Fran Gercke directs a whirlwind of four hilarious Neil Simon play-lets under the auspices of California Suite. Taking place in rooms 203 and 204 of the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel, Suite chronicles various couples as they visit from New York (Scene 1), Philadelphia (Scene 2), London (Scene 3), and Chicago (Scene 4)….
The six actors here — Susan Clausen Andrews, Teri Brown, Bernard X. Kopsho, Julie Anderson Sachs, Eddie Yaroch, and Brian Salmon — are all superb and incredibly funny in their over-the-top characterizations and off-the-wall actions. In Scene 1, Sachs and Yaroch are particularly compelling as Hannah and William Warren, a divorced couple from New York who bicker and banter back and forth as they are forced to decide what living arrangements are best for their daughter Jenny. Not only do these credible actors handle their difficult dialogue with ease, but they share a very crude chemistry that is both mind-numbing and heart-breaking to watch. Contrast that with the slapstick antics of Scene 2, in which conservative middle-aged businessman Marvin Michaels (a panicked Kopsho) awakens to discover an unconscious prostitute in his bed while his wife Millie (a wholesome Andrews) is on her way up to his suite….
As is to be expected from the always excellent Scripps Ranch Theatre, the technical aspects here are uniformly outstanding, with a Overall, the pacing of the production is zippy and zany (thanks to spry staging by Gercke) and it all comes together rather seamlessly in one fun and funny collection of playful play-lets.