The Lover

by Harold Pinter
Directed by Nancy S. Chu
the box theatre
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Common Basis Theatre, 750 8th Ave.
Non-union production (closes August 26)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Only the British could pull off a scene in which a husband matter-of-factly inquires of his wife what time she expects her lover that afternoon, lest the husband return home before the tryst is over. Problem is, in the box theatre's production of The Lover, the characters were not British; the Harold Pinter one-act was reset in the United States, which altered the tone of the play from sly comedy of manners to farce.

The change of venue did not doom this inaugural production by the box, but it did flatten it. Something seemed amiss in the pacing, and that was probably because the performers are too contemporarily American. The play really needs the classic British reserve for its humor and irony to work. While the stars, Tracy Baker and Christopher Todd, were an attractive, talented duo, they appeared to have been cast in the wrong play. They could pull off romantic comedy very well, but The Lover is not a romantic comedy-at least not in the traditional sense.

For an illustration of how the stiff upper lip distinguishes a confrontation over infidelity, see the 1983 film version of Pinter's Betrayal, in which a husband and wife discuss her longstanding affair with his best friend with all the fervor usually employed in a conversation about what to eat for dinner. Of course, Betrayal is a drama, whereas The Lover is a comedy. Under Nancy S. Chu's revisionist direction, however, the absurdism of the comedy overpowered Pinter's insight into staying together after comfort and familiarity have set in. One reason the play came off more as a bed-hopping farce than a social commentary is that Baker and Todd looked too young to be long-marrieds. In addition, the scenes of their sexual escapades were more riveting than those depicting their coping with the routine of married life.

In The Lover, wife Sarah's adulterous relationship is apparently serious and intense, while husband Richard is merely screwing a whore. But by the end of the play it's not clear whether these lovers actually exist or are just fantasy versions of the spouses. And what's with the milkman (Jere Williams)? These twists make The Lover a good conversation piece, and this production did not diminish that aspect of it at all. In addition, Baker's and Todd's skill at physical comedy was put to excellent use. A nicely designed set and appropriate incidental music also were assets. (No technical credits were included in the program.)
Box Score

Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri