In the new production of No Man's Land, currently playing at the Cort Theatre, two masterful actors, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen (both honored with the title of "Sir") tackle the roles of a couple of elderly writers, who meet in a pub and then continue the evening at the home and study of Hirst, played by Patrick Stewart. Clearly the one of the two who has enjoyed greater success, Hirst is a man of means, and the not so spiffily dressed Spooner (Ian McKellen) is happy to be in a warm and elegant home, enjoying a schnapps or two...or three. In the first act, Hirst, although put together and well appointed, appears feeble and fragile, as he drinks incessantly throughout the night. At this point, the pair seem to be strangers, until the introduction of two younger men, played by Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup.
As the second act unfolds, the manner in which the gents really know each other is revealed. Hirst shows up the next morning, after a night's sleep, seemingly refreshed and in control, the fragile figure that he was the evening before, transformed into one of energy and power. Spooner has been asleep on the floor of the study and awakened by Briggs (Hensley), is offered a fine breakfast and he partakes. As Hirst and Spooner share morning talk, the truth about their relationship is revealed. Themes that are introduced are how we experience each other, whether we ever really do know an individual, and the reliability of memory. Although the story and the dialogue is interesting and witty, the text can get tedious in its' long winded approach.
Harold Pinter wrote No Man's Land in 1974 and it was considered one of his "memory plays," a term referring to the faded recollections of the characters, as well as vague flashes of how they might know each other. As for me, I marveled at the actors' actual memories! There are huge chunks of monologues within this 4 character piece. Keep in mind, this is just one of two plays they are performing.
In addition to No Man's Land, they are also starring in the classic Waiting for Godot in repertory. (Repertory seems to be the rage this season.) Pretty astounding. The performances are all quite spot on, and it is indeed a supreme treat to see this pair of treasures on stage together. Directed by Sean Mathias, the two plays have a limited run through March 2.