Years before playwrights decided that raw emoting was preferable to shaded feeling and thought, Harold Pinter masterfully exploited the ambiguities of modern communication. Like Samuel Beckett, whose Waiting for Godot was described by one critic as a collection of "wordless meanings and meaningless words," Pinter delved into the notion that a few carefully sculpted phrases, punctuated by the sort of awkward silences common to everyday conversation, could reveal more about motive than whole volumes of explanatory dialogue.
While the tension that usually permeates such pause-laden talk is sometimes missing in Germinal Stage Denver's production of The Pinter Plays, director Ed Baierlein injects the pair of one-acts with a fair amount of maniacal delight and playful understatement. Propelled by several engaging performances and the British dramatist's twisted sense of humor, the two-hour evening proves an intriguing look at the bizarre power dynamics that shape romantic relationships. Especially those that revolve around an obsession to control and/or be controlled.
In fact, hardly a moment goes by when the four emotional predators in The Collection aren't trying to manipulate each other's insecurities and weaknesses. Flush with suspicion that his wife, Stella (Jamie Powers), might have betrayed him, James (Marc K. Moran) pays a visit to the London flat shared by Bill (Jamie Menard) and Harry (John Seifert). In due time, we learn that even though Bill and Stella did stay in the same hotel during a recent fashion convention, their affair might be more a product of the imagination than an actual meeting of the flesh. We also discover that Harry, who took Bill under his wing when he was a fledgling fashion designer, seems overly interested in filtering all of his flatmate's social contacts.
The Pinter Plays, through March 5 at Germinal Stage Denver, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108
Baierlein, who also designed the production, employs a setting of two rooms that are divided by a single board nailed to the stage floor, an arrangement that allows for some interesting visual symmetry. As Bill sits down on one side of the stage and reads a newspaper during a discussion with Harry, for instance, James silently executes the exact same move on the other side of the platform just prior to initiating a talk with his wife. It's an interesting choice that highlights each character's individual traits while underscoring the fact that their desires spring from a common need for order.
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Although they sometimes emphasize an inoperative word or pause for pausing's sake, the actors demonstrate a satisfactory feel for Pinter's highly structured dialogue: Powers is convincing as the woman for whom manipulation is both a dangerous game and a relished enterprise; Menard and Moran make the most of their love-hate relationship; and Seifert adds a layer of menace to his musings by smiling benignly at the end of this or that pronouncement.
Things heat up considerably after intermission, when Baierlein and Sallie Diamond perform Pinter's The Lover. The wonderfully crafted two-hander, which traces the antics of a couple bored with married life's routine but not marriage itself, is made all the more entertaining by the use of a few Frank Sinatra songs between scenes. As the 45-minute work begins, for instance, Old Blue Eyes croons, "How little we understand/What touches off that tingle" as the characters Richard and Sarah prepare for another day of mutual deceit.
Indeed, soon after her mate exits, briefcase in hand, Sarah changes into a come-hither dress that accentuates her ample bosom; Richard, dressed in sunglasses and crinkly bathrobe, re-enters as Max, Sarah's swarthy, bongo-playing lover. The two take on a variety of exotic roles that permit the normally staid suburban couple to shed their inhibitions and indulge in a few fetishes. After a while, though, Richard abruptly changes the rules of their trysts, a ploy that prompts both husband and wife to take yet another look at the circumstances of their relationship. Throughout, Baierlein and Diamond create a thoroughly believable -- and richly comic -- relationship as triple-dealing husband and double-spurned wife. Along with the antics in The Collection, it's enough to make one reconsider the wisdom, dramaturgical or otherwise, of adhering to a policy of honesty at all costs.