Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Caretaker—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

Corridors of the Mind

This dramatic piece by Harold Pinter is directed by Jerry Mouawad and produced by Carol Triffle.  It plays at Imago’s space at 17 SE 8th Ave. (just off Burnside) and runs through March 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

One of the most influential playwrights in England, Pinter was partly responsible for the avant-garde or absurdist’s movement in writing.  Along with Beckett, Albee and others, they created what is sometimes referred to as memory plays.  But memories can be tricky things.  One only has their own perspective on events, and these incidents may or may not have even happened.  In other words, things may not be as they seem and what you see/hear may not be what actually is.  Such is it with this play.

On the surface, the story seems to be about Aston (Jacob Coleman) who brings home a homeless man, Davis (Allen Nause), who has just been fired from his job of cleaning up a local dive.  Aston lives in a very run-down hovel in a seedy part of a small town in England.  Why this seeming act of kindness on Aston’s part is never explained.  But, not much of the story is, if you look at it from a purely logical or linear point of view.

Davis (or Jenkins, an assumed name) is offered a place to stay until he can “sort things out.”  He insists he can be on his way if he can just get over to Siddcup and get his papers, which proves who he really is.  But, either because he has no shoes that are fit for traveling, or the weather is just too nasty, he never seems to venture from this room.

And the room they live in is cluttered with all sorts of odds and ends. There is the broken toaster, which Aston diligently is trying to repair; the gas stove, which is disconnected; a shopping cart; two make-shift, dirty beds; a lively vacuum cleaner; a bucket for drips; a window, usually open, looking into a yard which is to be a place for Aston’s shed he’s going to build; and other seemingly unrelated objects.

Then, into their less than idyllic existences, appears Mick (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin), purportedly Aston’s brother and the self-proclaimed landlord of this building.  He sometimes lives there but, supposedly, has another residence.  At first he and Davis have an adversarial relationship but, out of the blue, Mick offers Davis the job of Caretaker of the house.  The reason being is that Mick thinks (mistakenly, obviously) that Davis is an interior decorator.

When Davis sees who’s really in charge, supposedly, he tries to pit brother against brother, looking for the best deal for himself.  But it seems there is more at stake than just a job, or identity papers, or broken appliances.  It just may be one’s sanity.  But who’s?  As I said, this is just the surface story and is firmly entrenched in the world of Pinter-ese.

This is not to say there is not a purpose to these proceedings.  But these kind of writings are designed to be enigmatic.  An example, a reporter once asked Beckett who was Godot, in his famous play, Waiting For Godot and he replied (seriously, I believe) “I forgot.”  A better question might be, who is Godot to you, the audience. 

And so, as an audience member, we are asked to sort it out for ourselves.  Yes, the actor(s)/director have/has a purpose, a storyline, a point of view.  They have to have that truth in order to create their reality on the stage.  But it doesn’t mean they have to burden the audience with only their viewpoint.  They, and the author, are inviting you to partake in discovering the solution, like in a mystery story.  You are an active participant and your point of view might be just as valid as theirs.

Of course I do have my own take on it but I won’t impose that on you.  You should make up your own mind.  But, some things to think about:  Is this set in a physical space, or may it be just a creation of someone’s mind?  If, so, whose?  The clutter of the room, traveling to find identity papers, building a shed, creating a palace for roomers, are all signposts for, perhaps, something deeper taking place.  Will you have the courage to face the challenge presented and discover the secret of The Caretaker!?  Ball’s in your court…

The performers are all exceptional in what is certainly a challenging play/language for any actor.  Nause, as the old man, is perfect.  He is so convincing, you could almost to smell him, as he races about the stage.  He has always been a class-one performer and director.  He is simply the best of what good theatre should be!  We are lucky to have him in our midst.

Coleman gives a carefully studied performance as the, possibly, mentally-challenged brother.  His use of pauses, carefully articulated lines, and physical tics and oddities, as he attempts to connect with people and objects, is priceless.  And Gilpin is equally effective as the kinetic, brash, and frenzied sibling.  His command of the stage and use of his body is an art in itself.

Mouawad has created a provocative piece of art.  His earlier direction of Pinter’s The Lover (w/Gilpin) proves he’s a worthy interpreter of Pinter, who would, I’m sure, be pleased with this production.  You believe every minute in the reality what he and his actors have created and their world.  His set is also an exercise in art, as you can easily sense the squalor of the surroundings and the odor of mildew on the walls.

I recommend this production.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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