No Man's Land
February 23, 2006
By Jennie Webb
"Something happened--I don't know what it was," says one of the manly men in Harold Pinter's masterful drawing-room exploration of memory and identity and privilege and testosterone-filled male pissing on one another and getting completely pissed--vodka and whiskey straight up, thank you. But perhaps it's more important now, after the supposed event, to take stock of who's left, and where and why and how, so in the end it doesn't matter what happened. Perhaps.
The landscape of Pinter's 1974 No Man's Land is ostensibly a world of power and wealth, populated by the successful writer Hirst (a marvelous Mitchell Ryan) along with his stylish caretakers Briggs (Paul Jenkins) and Foster (Whip Hubley)--think thugs, or valets, or secretaries, or perhaps even devoted progeny. Into this world comes Spooner (Tom Bower, absolutely hypnotic), a downtrodden poet who at first glance certainly doesn't belong here, but upon further consideration maybe has more in common with Hirst than their fashion sense tells us. Or maybe not.
Director John Pleshette knows Pinter's language and enigmatic terrain well, and in exploring one of the Nobel laureate's lesser-known works (to me, anyway), he and his cast leave no stone unturned as they unearth layer after layer of questions and uncertainties in this rich and fascinating play. As the erstwhile interloper and spouter of hilariously florid verbosity, Bower commands the stage with a weasely charm; he oozes around the stately and initially reserved--okay, soused--Ryan, and it's pretty much perfect. Then when Jenkins and Hubley are added to the mix-their respective characters black-leather clad, stomping, bullying, and delightfully posturing with a working-class lyricism--the Pinter pauses thicken.
What a pleasure it is to watch these guys mine this material onstage and, indeed, make it their own. Pleshette also designed the simple but effective set in the Lost Studio's cozy, newly remodeled space; his staging is unobtrusive yet very certain and appropriately disconcerting. So for a couple of hours, No Man's Land ends up as an undoubtedly remarkable place to be.
Presented by and at the Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. Feb. 17-Mar. 26. (800) 595-4849.
This 'No Man's Land' is anything but barren
By Katherine Karlin, Correspondent
Article Last Updated: 02/23/2006 12:17:50 PM PST
Two men share a drink in a well-appointed study; one is clearly prosperous, the other down-at-the-heels. Both are past their prime. Harold Pinter's enigmatic "No Man's Land," directed by John Pleshette at the Lost Studio, begins and ends with this tableau, and in between you are left to puzzle out who these men are, what each wants from the other, and how they scan the vast terrain of memory and solitude.
The synopsis may make "No Man's Land" sound grim, when it's anything but. As Hirst (Mitchell Ryan), an elegant man of letters, and Spooner (Tom Bower), who describes himself as a poet (even as an acquaintance complains that poets are supposed to be young) drink through the night and the following morning, their recollections, real or fabricated, soar with wit. At first Spooner talks, nonstop, as Hirst barely appears to listen, but eventually their roles reverse, as Hirst wakes from a drunken stupor to recognize in Spooner a long-lost school chum.
The set (which Pleshette designed) has one chair only, of button-tufted leather, and a matching ottoman, and the subtle power play between these two quietly pivots on the furniture. But the most intriguing textures are in the faces of the two actors - Ryan's, of granite,
and Bower's, of putty. Each is fascinating to watch as he listens to the other reveal, at Spooner's urging, the "quaint little perversions" of their histories.
If there's a weak spot in this production it is in the secondary roles: Whip Hubley and Paul Jenkins play Hirst's rough-and-ready caretakers. Pleshette wisely resists instructing his actors to affect British accents, although the play is specific to its London locale. Yet an accent might have been a class marker in the case of Foster, the younger and brasher of the employees. In Hubley's hands, the character is hard to place - obnoxious rather than working-class - and his reveries about traveling through Bali seem insincere when they might have been poignant.
But when Ryan and Bower take the stage, the lines sing. In "No Man's Land," you may end up pretty close to where you started. But what a trip.