Rep Stage in tune with Pinter

Complexities of 2 of his plays handled well by actors, director


February 09, 2007|By William Hyder | William Hyder,special to the sun

Harold Pinter's specialty is ambiguity.

The English playwright is a master dramatist who knows how to grip the audience's attention, how to shock and mystify, even how to raise a laugh now and then.

But he denies his audience the satisfaction of knowing exactly what's happening on the stage. It is up to the playgoer to work out his or her interpretation.

Rep Stage is presenting "Two by Pinter" comprising The Collection and The Lover, through Feb. 25.

The Collection portrays the complex interaction between two couples, one straight, the other gay. The facts of the situation are not easy to come by.

Pinter reveals bit by bit, during the course of the play, that James and his wife, Stella, are partners in a London dress boutique, and that Harry, middle class and stuffy, is a dress manufacturer and Bill, a young man from the working class, is one of his designers.

James is convinced that Stella has had a brief affair while visiting Leeds on business - in fact the audience is led to believe she told him so. He has decided that Bill, who was also in Leeds on business that weekend, is the guilty man.

James calls Bill on the phone and visits him, radiating a subtle menace that unsettles Bill and attracts him. Before long, James seems to be developing feelings for Bill - or is he just faking them, to lull Bill into letting his guard down? Confessions by Stella and Bill as to what really happened contradict things we heard earlier in the play. The other characters also make conflicting statements, creating an intricate emotional tangle.

Harry labors desperately to smooth everything over, but when The Collection ends the audience still isn't certain of the truth (or, for that matter, the significance of the title).

To Pinter, determining the facts is not important. He is interested in the way his characters' minds and emotions work, the way they deceive themselves and others, speak words that don't convey meaning and leave long pauses that do.

In a strong cast, Bolton Marsh is a properly inscrutable James, Peggy Yates a tormented Stella. Bill Largess is effective but a bit over the top as Harry, and Timothy Andres Pabon is right on target as Bill.

The Lover has more humor and more emotional violence than The Collection. We are introduced to Richard, a well-to-do London businessman, and his wife, Sarah.

Sarah appears to love Richard madly, but we see them chatting amicably over drinks about her lover, who visits her two or three afternoons a week. It is obviously not a new topic.

When Richard suddenly admits that he makes frequent visits to a prostitute, though, Sarah takes it badly. We learn that they both enjoy elaborate role-playing in their sexual encounters, and we watch as their behavior thrusts them both into emotional crises. Although The Lover is told more directly than The Collection, Pinter leaves many questions unanswered.

Nigel Reed and Marni Penning, as Richard and Sarah, deal brilliantly with the play's heavy emotional dialogue and action.

The actors in both plays make a good stab at English accents. Xerxes Mehta's direction is dramatically effective and well in tune with Pinter's approach.

The new black box theatre at Howard Community College allows directors considerable flexibility in arranging the playing area and seating. For this production, Mehta and set designer Elena Zlotescu chose a conventional layout, with the stage at one side of the space and all the seats facing it.

In The Collection, Zlotescu puts Harry's ponderously furnished living room on one side, James and Stella's stark modern one on the other. The Lover shows us the bedroom and drawing room of Richard and Sarah's house in the English countryside.

Both plays were written in the 1960s. Rock music by the Beatles and others, played before the performance, helps to transport the audience into the period.

A detail from a Rene Magritte painting, showing a bowler-hatted man whose face is obscured by a passing bird, nicely complements the occasional whiff of surrealism Pinter likes to include in his scripts.

Rep Stage presents "The Collection" and "The Lover," by Harold Pinter, through Feb. 25 in the black box theatre at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Reservations: 410-772-4900, or

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