Thursday, March 29, 2012

"The Caretaker" ☼ ☼ ☼

Because Harold Pinter ( 1930-2008) is such a giant in twentieth century theater, we tend to look for what there isn't and make light of what there is. What you don't get in SHN's new mounting of "The Caretaker" is plot. What you do get is a vehicle for three terrific actors. Written in 1960, "The Caretaker" is absurdist but it is also personal. We feel for each of the three characters, though we're really not sure why we should.

Jonathan Pryce is marvellous. Playing Davies, the elderly transient who has been taken in and given a place to live by Aston (Alan Cox), Pryce is cantankerous and self-righteous to start, but as his footing becomes more treacherous we see the frightened soul inside. Aston, meanwhile, seems too calm and trusting to be real, until we hear his remarkable monologue about his own history, after which we realize both these men are deeply scarred.

All along, we've realized that Aston's brother Mick (Alex Hassell) is completely off his rocker. His stream-of-consciousness dialogue with Davies, unhinged to any semblance of reality, changes completely when he is speaking with his brother, whom he criticizes in one breath while flying to his defense in the next.

What is the sum of all this craziness? Ah, well, this is the essential question of Pinter. Does it amount to anything at all? Do we care about the lives of these men? Does their situation have any bearing upon our own? Above all, when the show is over, have we learned anything? Has anything changed in our lives?

For this reviewer, the answer is yes on a theatrical level -- particularly because "The Caretaker" was Pinter's breakout play -- but probably no by every other measure. "The Caretaker" feels as vague as most absurdist theater, but, like the best of the genre, gives us the chance to watch great actors act.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Caretaker" Three Stars, one for each actor. It is in some ways like an absurdist sit-com. There are laughs aplenty, with situations for Pryce, Hassell and Cox to shine. But the show is long and you have to work a bit to stay tuned.

One note: the working-class English accents are tough. We suggest you try to sit as close to the front as possible.

"The Caretaker"
The Curran Theater
445 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through April 22

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