Posts Tagged ‘Deborah Findlay’

Review – Moonlight – Donmar Theater

April 11, 2011

My first exposure to the incredible depth that can be found in the works of Harold Pinter came with the Donmar’s production of Old Times back in 2004. It was astounding; I felt like I’d finally found a playwright who respected his audience enough to not feel the need to tell them everything. This was a person who was writing for me, and if I found it hard going, well, it was my job to figure it out.

Since then I’ve been seeing Pinter plays as often as I can, not trying to see everything that is done but trying to see every play at least once. Thus, Moonlight was a ticket I bought automatically, as it’s a Pinter play I haven’t seen and, well, the Donmar, you know, they may have a style but this play firmly is in the middle of what they do well and was absolutely guaranteed to be a great production (not to mention deliciously affordable at £10 in the balcony). Excitingly for me, I recognized two of the actors from other shows, one (“the wife,” Deborah Findlay) from the fabulous John Gabriel Borkman (same role, different husband) in this same theater; the other (“the husband,” David Bradley) from the Tricycle’s Caretaker where he played the eponymous role: so funny to see him transformed from creepy old bum to semi-respectable asshole – somehow it seemed that it was all on a continuum of “life in Pinter” where one could just go from one state to another, much as one goes from “mother” to “grandmother” or possibly “serving wretch” depending on how the circumstances of your life change in the intervening years. But I digress.

So I’m sitting here now, writing this, wondering: what do I talk about, the production? The plot? The questions it left behind? It’s the third I’m most interested in, but I suspect only Pinter fanatics feel that way. The set is lovely, blues framed by a line of occasionally blinding white whose fading seemed a literal echo of Dylan Thomas’ “dying of the light” (against with Bradley spends the play raging); the sound design is sparse but gets special mention for use of the Cure’s “Love Cats” (first time I’ve heard a band from my wasted college years used in a show) in a throwaway moment. And the set, showing two different environments (a seedy flat, the bedroom of a well-to-do household) side by side is sparse and effective, a perfect accompaniment to the script, showing that the four main actors are both hopelessly intertwined with each other while emphasizing the chasm in their daily existences.

Overall, this seems to me to be a lesser Pinter play, if well done. Bradley is strong in the main role of the dying, hallucinating former civil servant who seems to revel in torturing his wife with his past excesses; Findlay neatly conveys long-term suffering tempered by the knowledge of her certain release from her husband’s foul mouth. But their two sons, who seem to be dole-funded layabouts who spend their days playing mind games with each other, don’t have clear roles in the show and seem disposable. Ultimately, they only really seem to matter in the scene where their mother takes her one solo action in the play; calling to their apartment to ask them to visit their dying father. In this we get our long, Pinteresque moment of silent and tension, as the phone rings and rings while the boys stare at it as if it were a terrorist buzzing their doorbell, finally answering, “Laundry service.” The mother attempts to get them to engage with her struggle, then breaks down into playing the game with them; showing her connection with them and emphasizing the uncrossable divide between them and their father.

It was a perfect moment, but in many ways the play might be even better if the sons (and their 20 or more minutes of stage time) were eliminated altogether and we just focused on the couple as they moved slowly toward death. The noticeable slowing at the end would disappear and we, the audience, would have a much tidier set of destroyed human beings to deal with. It seems to me the play was far more vibrant in the scenes in which the father and the wife argue about their lives together and what death means; when they are not the focus, it seems garbled. Though I know Pinter constructed this deliberately, still, this time he said too much; but I considered it a good evening out and rewarding viewing nonetheless.

(This review is for a preview performance of Moonlight that took place on Friday, April 8th, 2011. It continues through May 28th and looks to be sold out for the entire run.)

Review -John Gabriel Borkman – The Donmar

April 13, 2007

Last night: I’m on an Ibsen/Pinter/Tennessee Williams kick, “collecting” their shows like one would Beanie Babies or BPAL imps, and last night was Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman. The language was thick, but the plot was crystal clear and the characters fantastic. I didn’t know a thing about it (other than “financier’s ruin causes long-lasting rifts within his family”), but as the various relationships of the characters – estranged twin sisters, one the wife of Borkman (who has not seen her husband in eight years, despite the fact he lives upstairs – Deborah Findlay); the son; and the sexy widow next door. (An unseen other character is “the lawyer” next door who’s having a party “the son” is invited to; he’s the man who revealed JGB’s malfeasance and, in essence, ruined him and his family.)

Kurt Vonnegut (RIP) once said (and Scarlettina reminded me) that “every character should want something,” and, by God, these people did. Whether it was power, love, money, revenge, happiness, or freedom, they wanted it like fish want water and humans want air, with great, gasping breaths to suck it in. Their stiff, nineteenth century language (Victorian formality) was delivered as a package to the same, burning desires that animate people today – and I loved it all. It reminded me of the very unhappy version of The Voysey Inheritance, which is a look at the same kind of financial finaglings gone “right.” In this play, you see exactly the kind of ruin Voysey Junior expects, and you understand why he is so very afraid of the consequences of his father’s actions.

Ibsen (thinking of Vonnegut again) rushed us straight to the non-stop action as the years of built-up frustration spilled out. What a great night of theater! I wasn’t bored for a minute, and at the end, I wanted to thank each actor personally for delivering, at last, on the contract we made when I bought my ticket: that I would willingly suspend disbelief, and they would become, not actors on a stage, but people who had stories (and pasts) I cared about. Thanks for a great night, guys!

(This review carried over from my previous theater blog. The performance took place the night of April 12th, 2007.)