KPBS AIRDATE: March 22, 2002
Harold Pinter was walking toward his two-room London flat in 1958 when he peered into the neighbors’ apartment and saw two men inside: one rooting around in a bag, the other staring out a window. The image never left him. He found out that one, who had a history of mental illness, had invited the other, a homeless man, to live with him. Two years later, that scene, and those characters, showed up in his groundbreaking play, “The Caretaker,” which was recently ranked 9th in the Royal National Theatre’s Survey of the Twentieth Century’s Most Significant Plays.
Now “The Caretaker” has taken up residence in San Diego. Continuing his heroic effort to revive rarely-seen classics, George Flint, founding producer of Renaissance Theatre Company, has hired a terrific team to mount Pinter’s harrowing tragicomedy, an unpredictable game of psychological cat-and-mouse. Davies, the tramp, is a hilarious, wheedling, irascible but persnickety vagrant, a fussbudget who rejects a free pair of shoes because the laces don’t match. His unlikely host is former mental patient Aston. And making enigmatic appearances is Aston’s slick, sinister brother Mick. It’s a merry triumvirate of the dispossessed, a chilling trinity of power and powerlessness, co-dependence, delusion and pitiful, life-sustaining dreams.
Last year, Renaissance tested the Pinter waters with a stupendous staged reading of the play. Only one of that trio of Brits remains, the most crucial one, the virtuosic Ron Choularton, who’s dazzling as Davies. But the piece has lost some of its edge. The reading was deeply disturbing; this production’s more pathetic and sad. During the opening weekend, it seemed more like a star-turn for Choularton than a fully realized ensemble. The production is already powerful; with time, it could be breathtaking.
Rosina Reynolds has directed with a sure hand and a superb sense of Pinter’s rhythms and sly humor. Bryan Bevell plays Aston with vacant, unsentimental pathos, and his long monologue about institutionalization and shock therapy is gut-wrenching. As Mick, Jeffrey Jones has an aptly nasty smile and a pretty-boy look, but he’d be more compelling if he were more menacing.
Marty Burnett’s pitch-perfect set is so grimy and scuzzy, you feel dirty just having looked at it, with its sloping, smeared walls, rotted, grimy stove and piles of filthy detritus everywhere. In these days of homelessness and hopelessness, when so many feel lost and dispossessed, “The Caretaker” fits right in. And when Pinter is this skillfully done, he’s welcome here any time.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc