N.J. THEATER REVIEW
British playwright Harold Pinter, in the words of one of his colleagues, "did what Auden said a poet should do. He cleaned the gutter of the English language so that it ever afterwards flowed more easily and more cleanly." This same colleague (David Hare) also said "his singular appeal is that you sit down to every play to never know what the hell's coming next.
And so you know what you know what to expect and what you might respect at "No Man's Land" which has just opened in a stunning production, with a sensational cast, at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison. The work, written in 1974 and staged in London's West End the following year, is one of Pinter's most complex. Only 90 minutes, but filled with twists and turns of language that defies plot analysis. One moment you are laughing at a clever bon mot, the next you are stunned into silence at a threat that might indeed breed violence.
Writing in the Guardian, London critic Michael Billington said of the original production: ""No Man's Land" covers all of human contact between who and whom." Huh?
We actually spend the time in the library of a rather old-fashioned home somewhere, sometime in England. We meet Hurst who apparently owns the home and Spooner who seems to be an invited guest and might be an old friend — or even a college chum. They met in a pub. Two things you should know (although neither will be of any help in figuring out what the play is about.) First, Pinter gave his characters in this play the names of cricket players he admired. And second, Pinter when he was writing the work, was heavily involved in an affair with a stunning lady of considerable renown and therefore paid little attention to the production.
There really is a third thing: when Pinter makes a definite statement, he may very well not mean it.
Four of the finest actors in regional theater have been assembled for the show and they have a delicious time batting Pinter's dialogue around the stage and into the audience. Each can draw a laugh from a raised eyebrow or a gasp from a raised finger. Edmund Genest, back for his 15th summer in Madison, gives his finest performance in years as the dour, mind-wobbling Hurst. Sherman Howard (6th season) wanders delightfully between bemusement and terror as the houseguest. Who might or might not have been a college friend. Derek Wilson, in his sixth summer, and Paul Mullins, in his 19th, are the pair of wannabe thugs with more taste than most henchmen and contribute to both the humor and the darkness.
It is not a play you will have many opportunities to see and it is exceedingly doubtful if you will ever see a more definitive one. And, isn't it about time the Tony Award folk took a good look at The Shakespeare Theatre for its regional award?
"No Man's Land" continues at The Shakespeare Theatre through August 29. 36 Madison Ave, on the campus of Drew University. For reservations and information, please call (973) 408-5600 or visit website.