& Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, Mass.,
through Aug. 2
(Stephen Pilkington) scratches out “In an English Country
Garden” offstage, then continues playing as he enters upstage
right to cross the stage and exit. A second’s pause after
the first entrance, Shakespeare & Company stalwart Malcolm
Ingram, dressed in his English-country-garden-best trousers,
vest and coat, enters downstage right to cross to the upstage
center breakfast table. After a second second’s pause, Ingram’s
fellow actor and wife, Elizabeth Ingram, dressed in her English-country-garden-best
frock, enters from downstage left to cross to the upstage
center breakfast table. He sits, opens the paper, and reads.
She reaches for the brown betty, pours his tea, sits, pauses
in silence for a second, then speaks.
begins Shakespeare & Company’s first production of Nobel
Prize- winning playwright Harold Pinter’s work. Judging from
the results of this unique collection of three seemingly disparate
one-act plays, A Slight Ache, Family Voices,
and Victoria Station, it shouldn’t be the last. Director
Eric Tucker, in his debut effort at S&Co, has his three-actor
cast smartly attuned to Pinter’s poetic prose, static animation,
and other similar Pinteresque contradictions.
earlier plays were dubbed “comedies of menace,” and 1961’s
A Slight Ache features the Ingrams as the quintessential
1950s middle-aged, upper-crust wife and husband, Flora and
Edward breaking tea, toast, and marmalade the morning of the
longest day of the year. The sound of a wasp buzzing (sound
design by Michael Pfeiffer) informs A Slight Ache,
each burst of dialogue by the very settled coupled prefaced
by wasp noise. The two disagree over Flora’s fear of being
“bitten” by the wasp; they sting, Edward waspishly tells her.
He traps the nettlesome insect in the marmalade pot, inciting
another seemingly inane disagreement (Edward: “He’ll die in
the marmalade.” Flora: “What a horrible death.” Edward: “On
the contrary.” Flora: “He’s trying to crawl out of
the spoonhole. Oh, yes, let’s kill him.”). Edward’s glee over
his own cleverness in pouring hot tea water down the spoonhole
to drown the wasp is matched only by his enthusiasm in scooping
out the wet wasp and scruntching it loudly between teaspoon
execution elicits chuckles and giggles from the audience,
but by A Slight Ache’s end the symbolic richness of
the event becomes apparent. Flora and Edward’s static agitation
is turned ass-over-teakettle by the silent menace of The Matchseller
(in an oddly excellent performance by Pilkington, who remains
silent and almost still for nearly an hour). First standing
mutely outside the garden’s back gate, then invited into the
garden, then into their home, The Matchseller takes on the
projected longings, denials, and fears of first Edward then
Flora. It’s masterfully done, and it keeps the audience buzzing
during the intermission.
half of Pinter’s Mirror features two shorter one-acts
from the early 1980s, each ostensibly dialogues about miscommunication.
Family Voices unfolds as a series of letters to and
from a mother (Elizabeth Ingram) and her son (Pilkington),
who is away in London for the first time. Pilkington’s portrayal
of the son is a delight, but the quirky strength of the scene
is the staging. While the mother sits centerstage, intoning
her increasingly urgent pleas for news from her son, the son
circles his mother, or stands next to her, their letters never
arriving, never informing, never comforting. Physically they
are together, but their words never affect each other.
Station is the mirror of Family Voices: a “controller”
(dispatcher in America, the former being a more accurate description
of Malcolm Ingram’s role in the play) tries to talk taxi 274’s
driver (Pilkington) into picking up a fare at Victoria Station.
Ingram’s exasperation inflates as 274’s driver seems lost
in an existentialist fog: He has no idea where Victoria Station
is (akin to a New York City cabdriver not knowing where Grand
Central Station is), no idea where he is presently, no idea
what a taxi driver does. The bouncing dialogue between the
two finally drives the dispatcher to seek out 274.
as Pinter’s Mirror is, it’s not just the staging, acting,
and sound design that make S&Co’s production so unique.
Eric Tucker’s poetic “Director’s Notes,” composed mostly of
lines from the play written in free-verse form, is the finest
poem I’ve ever read in a program, and is all you ever need
to know about Pinter’s Mirror.