Harold Pinter liked to play games in his plays, teasing the audience, suggesting facts and realities that might or might not be true. He does this in “No Man’s Land,” written in 1974. It is an acerbic commentary on human nature, with a particular aim at the jugular of the literary set. Pinter’s prickly style is well served by director Sean Mathias and finely acted by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, with well-honed support from Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. If you like intellectual diversions and mysteries, this play is for you.
The setting is a villa, in a strange living room enclosed in round walls of gray squares, almost like a tomb, unusually bare except for a silver bar, a blue/gray rug, a few chairs. Spooner (Ian McKellen) and Hirst (Patrick Stewart), men in their sixties, are getting drunk.
Beckett’s metaphor for the human condition, of people clutching to each other in the face of man’s inhumanity to man, turns absurdity into tragedy and occasionally black comedy. Director Sean Mathias has staged, almost choreographed, a dazzling cast in a haunting performance of a poignant, classic play.
Gogo, diminutive of Estragon – that’s French for tarragon — with bulbous nose and scraggly hair, is portrayed by the excellent Ian McKellen with a Lancashire accent. His jerky, unsteady motions show a man in physical decay.
Didi, diminutive of Vladimir, with a worn suit jacket that may reflect a lost self-image, is played with subtlety by Patrick Stewart, still more in charge of himself, still aware of the irony of their situation. He tells Gogo, “You’d make me laugh if it wasn’t prohibited.”
A woman is trapped in a system, caught in a machine (machinal, from the French of or pertaining to machines), that turns her into a victim any way she looks, whether she accepts her plight or fights it. Sophie Treadwell’s powerful and inventive play is a feminist treatise about women forced into marriage and then self-destruction, because they have no alternatives. It’s a stunning drama, given a rich, subtle, moving performance by British actor Rebecca Hall in this Roundabout Theatre Company revival.
Treadwell, who most of us haven’t heard of (why not?), an extraordinary sophisticated woman for her time or any time, wrote this play in 1928, and it was produced at the time in New York to rave reviews and not seen since on Broadway. It was inspired by the execution that year of Ruth Snyder for the murder of her husband. Treadwell, a journalist who covered murder trials and was also a playwright, wonders and imagines why.
This early Brecht play, first staged in 1926, is disappointing. It presages some of the elements of his later works, especially the Mother Courage character who here is Widow Begbick (the good Justin Vivian Bond as a modern red head with a sinful low voice), who owns a beer wagon that follows the soldiers to serve up brew and herself.
And there are the soldiers, victims of imperialism, which has turned them into mindless fighting machines.
But though the elements are often engaging, due in large part to the colorful staging by Brian Kulick and the talent of the actors, the play somehow doesn’t hold together.
The nuggets of Brecht’s ideas, opposition to war and the stupidity and brutality of the imperialist military, are there. But it doesn’t have the wit and sharpness of his later productions. It seemed forced and lacks subtlety.
I don’t like modern pop/rock music; it lacks musicality. But this hip-schmaltzy staging of work that Burt Bacharach wrote from the late 1950s through the 1980s makes one take another look at the new inflections.
It features multi-talented 20- and 30-something performers playing, singing and circulating in a production that is infectious and charming.
This political circus is quite out of the ordinary. It is in the tradition of the great political clown, Charlie Chaplin. “Cirkopolis,” by Cirque Éloize of Montreal, is a commentary on the metropolis that is filled with political symbolism. Call it a circus for our times.
The twelve performers are acrobats, contortionists and jugglers, but instead of familiar circus space, they inhabit offices and factories. The decorative themes are gray clothes and cogs and wheels representing the soul-destroying place of modern work. We see Greek statues — uplifting culture — and, behind them, the cogs and wheels of a factory — dreary reality.