Review: One for the Road by Springs Ensemble Theatre

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SET stays painfully true to Pinter's work.
  • SET stays painfully true to Pinter's work.
Editor's note: This review was written by Terry Gibson, whose review of TheatreWorks' It's a Wonderful Life appears in Wednesday's paper.

A refined and cultivated brotherhood of sadists is standing by in leisure to gouge out your eyeballs with a rusty spoon while praising the tonalities of Wagner or Proust.

In One for the Road by Harold Pinter, staged with unflinching fidelity by Sarah S. Shaver at Springs Ensemble Theatre, we are proffered a 40-minute vignette by one of these moral pygmies, a soulless mercenary casually implementing a minor facet of the “full spectrum dominance” of our woeful time. Yet he never lays a hand on anyone, at least not in our presence. We hear no screams of anguish or pain. (Well, a little maybe.) That is for lesser playwrights than Pinter who, as in his full-length masterpiece The Birthday Party, keeps such theatrical shenanigans tactfully offstage.

Besides, Pinter’s focus is on other, more significant matters, such as this:

With no identity of their own, these Neanderthals of officialdom are fascinated by those who actually have one, be it man, woman, or child. They murder, castrate, rape or maim not as punishment, per se, but for a momentary glimpse of the moral coordinates so plain to the rest of us, but of which they are knowingly blind.

In the case of One for the Road, Pinter gives us a man named Nicolas (Karl Brevik) who holds captive a young family of moderate subversives who’ve done nothing other than tarnish the name of a man he admired. “He didn’t think, he lived!” Nicolas hectors to make his point.

Indeed, Pinter had a remarkable career dramatizing the discrepancy between thinking and living, the possible or the necessary, even strength and expertise. Using religion, politics, or globalization as a guise, what actually takes place between Nicolas and his subjects is a battle of ontic priorities, a contest of sorts between modes of being that go deep, and often animate, our floundering, convulsive civilization. You can probably guess who comes out on top; many we vote into high office. They smile and make speeches, launch missiles, and wave back to us.

For his plays, his works of poetry and prose, and his extraordinary campaign to free political dissidents and publicly challenge the Reagan/Thatcher regime, Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005. He died of esophageal cancer three years later, and will long remain and be remembered as one of the major creative forces of our time.

In SET's production of One for the Road, both Matt Radcliffe as Victor the husband, and Miriam Roth Ballard as his wife, offer a naturalism, conviction and restraint for which we are truly grateful and absorbed. (Disclosure: Radcliffe is a graphic designer at the Indy.) And Shaver has such a keen, instinctive use of the space to highlight their abilities.

If Brevik’s lines on occasion sound a bit transistorized and flat, no matter — he captures the Epicurean delight of Nicolas with certainty and the calculated aplomb of a cruise-ship entertainment director. Aidan Carter is a charming and intelligent boy, and as Radcliffe and Ballard’s son, he displays a true sense of an actor’s spontaneity and freshness, a thing many performers spend lifetimes striving for.

All told, Pinter would be quite pleased with this production. My, how we wish he were still here to see it.

One for the Road, directed by Sarah S. Shaver, running time: 40 minutes
Dec. 12-14, 8 p.m.
Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Tickets $10, student rush $8; for more, call 357-3080 or visit springsensembletheatre.org.




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