Sunday, December 8, 2013

the lover—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

“…and, thereby, hangs a tale.”

Famous, absurdist playwright, Harold Pinter’s one-act, will be presented in limited performances at Imago’s space, 17 SE 8th Ave (just off Burnside), through December 21st.  It is directed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle, co-founders of Imago.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

The word “absurdist,” to describe a writing genre, might be a bit misleading.  It does not, on the surface, mean farcical or silly but, might be better thought of as, disturbing, or, more specifically, a story taking place in an alternate universe…a state-of-mind world where, literally, anything is possible.  Some of the most well-known authors are Beckett (Waiting For Godot, Endgame), Stoppard (R&G Are Dead, Betrayal), Albee (Tiny Alice, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and, of course, Pinter (The Birthday Party, The Caretaker—presented by Imago in February w/Allen Nause), et. al.

When Beckett was asked, who is “Godot,” his purported reply was, “I forgot.  Who is he to you?”  The reason I go into some detail about this genre, is that I want you to know you are not going to see your typical play, with an easily understandable or explainable plot.  It is not so much about beings with feet of clay, but more about their flights of fancy.  It is “entertainment” but with a purpose…and that purpose is up to you to discover.

On the surface, it is about two people, entrenched in their marriage but, perhaps, at a crossroad.  It seems they may not be “everything” to each other, so they have an open marriage.  They both have other partners occasionally during the week.  Sarah (Anne Sorce) has an afternoon lover and her husband, Richard (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin), has his occasional flings with a whore.  It all seems above board and honest, if not a little eccentric.  But, it seems, that jealousy may be rearing its ugly head into this relationship.  They have spats about the other’s entities, which forces them to question their own self-worth.  A serpent may have invaded their fanciful Eden.

So far, it sounds like a fairly normal story of a couple having marital problems.  But when the lover, Max, appears, it turns out to be Richard, with a somewhat different accent and clothing.  Of course, she must be aware of this duplicity but she appears not to let on.  And, of course, what of him?  Is he aware, or is he simply mad?  Are these games these people play meant to keep their marriage alive?  But, ah, “…thereby hangs a tale.”

At times they seem to telegraph that they’re aware of the proceedings, and just as the plot gets clearer, the game changes.  And the plot may not be there to expose their secrets but for the audience to discover them.  Like a good mystery, the reader/viewer must put the pieces together to figure out the culprit, the ending.  Only, in this case, you won’t know if you’re right or not.  And is this really their house, or are they both mad and incarcerated in an institution to be studied.  By whom?  Us, of course. Then, as an audience, are we not also a part of the game.

My own takes on it, is that it is truly an intense love story, a bizarre one, to be sure, but one in which the lovers will explore any lengths to keep their marriage together.  It is not unlike “…Virginia Woolf?” in which an offspring dies (perhaps), but in order to hold onto sanity, they create a world where he is still alive.  But games can be played only so far, eventually they must end or change.  Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?  (reality, perhaps, as Woolf was a stream-of-conscious writer).  The reply, “I am, George, I am.”  This situation seems relevant here, too.

Pinter is very explicit in his script as to pauses and often uses an economy of words.  But explanations are not to be found.  Mouawad has an excellent command of this genre, as he explores, I’m sure, with Pinter’s satisfaction, the depths and possibilities of his script.  And the two actors are quite extraordinary in their performances!  They wring every nuisance and ounce of truth (such as it is) from the material.  As actors, they know exactly what’s going on.  The seemingly random actions are very specific in the actors/director’s mind (and, having been an actor in this genre, myself, it’s true, they do).

It also plays, almost like a ballet at times, with the movements beautifully precise (see Imago’s signature piece, Frogz, too, and you will agree).  And the set is the open playground for them.  I applaud them all for reviving an almost forgotten genre to the public…and doing it so damn well! I recommend this show but, keep in mind, it is adult material.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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