Bridge Repertory’s new production of Harold Pinter’s “The Lover” is sharp, funny, sexy , weird and wonderful. This new, clearly talented group cracks Pinter’s enigmatic show open like a fresh egg and reveals the human emotion behind Pinter’s cryptic dialog and plotting. McCaela Donovan and Joe Short both shine and with performances brave and bold. These, combined with crackerjack direction by Shana Gozansky, create a show that succeeds at generating laughs as well as the moments of tense Pinter-esque silence. It’s a completely successful production of a difficult work and the results are moving and breathtaking.
“The Lover” is a highly erotic and emotionally intense dissection of a married couple attempts to satisfy each others needs and desires. Sarah and Richard are the quintessential proper upper-middle class husband and wife, whose daily routine seems comfortable, if a bit tame. They could be any pretty South End couple walking down Tremont Street in matching khakis and oxfords, but they also know how to spice things up. “Is your lover coming today?” asks Richard, as if he’s asking about a postal delivery. Sarah responds playfully, that he is. So are they kidding around? Are they well adjusted ‘swingers’? Or is this some code for something else entirely? We can’t tell right away and that’s part of the plays charm and power. Pinter one act is about fidelity and fantasy but it’s just as much about how hard, or maybe impossible it is, to know what another person is thinking. We all keep secrets and when we choose to share our secrets, it’s often because there’s another layer of the onion we haven’t revealed. We the audience think we are getting the whole picture, but just like this couple, we discover that there’s always more that remains hidden.
Ambiguity is one of Pinter’s favorite tools and Director Shana Gozansky creates some great moments of visual ambiguity to match Pinter’s mischievousness. As the audience enters the theater we are presented a living room suite plucked out of Crate and Barrel catalog (Scenic and Light Design by Luke Sutherland). Everything is clean and fresh and in its place. In fact things seem so ‘normal’ it might take you a moment to notice the two blindfolded figures sitting perfectly still on matching chairs at the back of the set. Are they hostages? Lovers involved in some roll playing? The show hasn’t even started and the audience is already back on it’s heals.
Along with the inventive direction and strong performances by the leads, there are wonderful surprises. Juan C. Rodriguez is unforgettable in a walk-on role that might be invisible in a more traditional production. It’s a bit ‘out there’ like a number of the directorial choices, but it works. This is a production that doesn’t hold too tight to the idea of realism and yet the heightened reality it creates doesn’t distract to the real emotions that lay under the surface.
Deane Hall lacks almost all the trappings of a proscenium stage and yet Mr. Sutherland does a wonderful job creating effective lighting, sometimes with nothing more then household lamps, which make up part of the set. Gozansky even takes advantage of a curtained window and adjacent alcoves, making them a useful set pieces rather then ignored architectural elements. Sound designer Ed Young adds music, sound effects and what could only be described as sound collages. Such additions could seem pasted on or ham-handed but Sutherland and Gozansky keep everything in balance. No example could be better then a scene that ends with Ms. Donovan standing perfectly still on a chair, while Sutherlands sounds (a clock ticking and a Marvin Gaye song slowed down and distorted) roll over her and us. It’s a great invention for linking two scenes that would normally be separate and keeps the tension high when it might normally be released by a blackout.
As stated, Bridge Repertory Theater is brand new and “The Lover” is there first production, but if this is any indication of the quality of their work, we will be lucky to have them around for a long time.
"The Lover" by Harold Pinter, directed by Shana Gozansky
Produced by Bridge Repertory of Boston, Now through March 17
Deane Hall, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston
For tickets visit http://www.bostontheatrescene.com/season/The-Lover/