Prescription: Viagra

The Lover

By Harold Pinter
Directed by Doug Mercer
Expanded Arts
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Ken Jaworowski

The Lover, Harold Pinter's biting comedy, was downright toothless at the Expanded Arts Theater. In a frugal, bare-bones production that relied entirely on two actors, it was not always a bad show. Yet seldom was it very good. Imagine sitting in a restaurant, famished, anticipating a juicy dish and instead being served a plate of semi-stale bread, and there you have the production that, given the chance to satisfy, barely managed to appease.

Pinter is the sharpest of playwrights. His knifelike exchanges cut through the niceties of conversation to pierce the veneer of civilized life. In The Lover, a couple who have been married ten years feasts on a succession of mostly verbal erotic fantasies. The role-playing reveals more than either character might like to know and forces the viewer to question whether we are all actors. Or all viewers. Or all liars.

Under director Doug Mercer the play was a butter knife rather than a razor blade. There were laughs, but they faded sooner than intended, while the sexual tension became as indifferent as a busy signal. Much of the fault lay in Mercer's staging. The Expanded Arts Theater, little more than a garage, might be adequate for a play that relies only on words. The Lover, however, lampoons British marriage by using the sight of a staid middle-class household to contrast the sound of an active, sometimes vulgar, fantasy life; appearances are thrillingly deceiving, Pinter asserts. Yet with only two wooden chairs and some tacked-up bed sheets, far too much was left to the imagination here. How confusing to hear someone speak of his drink, yet see no glass or bottle. How unwise to forgo the tea set, the most telling symbol of British decorum. There may be an argument that the absence of a set and props was a statement on an absence of substance in the marriage, but a greater argument could be made that the production simply lacked care and effort. Alas, even the floor was unswept.

Other corners were cut. Sarah, the wife, taunts her husband with descriptions of her promiscuity with strangers. In a brief but important scene, a milkman arrives when Sarah is alone. She treats the friendly man rudely, exposing her claims of flirtatiousness as a lie. To cut the episode from the production, as this one did, is not an unforgivable sin, but keeping it in further explores the gap between words and actions and shows a respect to detail that was routinely disregarded under Mercer's direction.

As Sarah, Missy Thomas displayed a sensual inner life behind her blank expression, while Nathan Flower, as Richard, was a solid British husband. Both paid homage to the famous Pinteresque pauses with praiseworthy timing, though each had difficulty holding on to a British accent in the heat of passion.

In 50 minutes this one-act should have delivered more. The unreal reality of Pinter's characters is something to be savored, and his themes are ones to endlessly chew on. This production, however, chose to recite the story rather than explore it, as if all involved just needed to put a Pinter play on their resumes. Well, now they have the title to place on their credits. How disappointing for the audience.
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 0

Acting: 1

Set: 0

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2000 Ken Jaworowski