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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE CARETAKER
at BAM Harvey Theatre

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME
By MATT WINDMAN

  Jonathan Pryce and Alan Cox/ Ph: Richard Termine

Two-time Tony winner Jonathan Pryce, who is set to play King Lear next season at London’s Almeida Theatre, already seems to be getting into character. He’s now playing an unpredictable, grandly theatrical, homeless vagabond in Christopher Morahan’s spot-on revival of Harold Pinter’s 1960 classic The Caretaker, which premiered in 2009 in the U.K. and is now playing an extended engagement at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater.

Although The Caretaker was Pinter’s sixth work of drama (coming right after 1957’s The Birthday Party), it was his first major commercial and critical success (soon to be followed by his 1964 masterpiece The Homecoming). The play’s ominous tone, cryptic style, built-in silences, suggestions of an ongoing power struggle, and virtual lack of plot or character description would go on to become hallmarks of Pinter’s extensive body of work.

Set in a shabby, working-class London flat, the kind and quiet Aston (Alan Cox) has invited a Davies (Pryce), a mysterious homeless man who was on the verge of being beaten, to stay with him at his home. The next morning, Davies can’t believe that Aston will even let him stay there alone while Aston leaves. But before Davies can get comfortable, Aston’s violent brother Mick (Alex Hassell) attacks him. Pretty soon, the brothers are considering Davies to be the caretaker of the property. But in spite of their benevolence, it’s never clear whether Davies is receiving power at their behest or just being treated as some kind of pawn in a complicated game.

Pinter paints all three men with sad and strange qualities. In a monologue, Aston reveals that he was formerly in a mental hospital, where he was subjected to electric shock treatment that has scarred him mentally and emotionally. Mick, in spite of his primitive actions, wants to redesign the building into a swinging posh penthouse full of tweed armchairs and other signs of luxury. Meanwhile, Davies, in spite of his destitution, is still picky about what shoes he’ll wear. Davies is also prone to randomly bursting into racist diatribes.

The Caretaker is extremely difficult to stage, as recently exhibited by the Roundabout’s lackluster 2003 Broadway revival starring Patrick Stewart. But Morahan’s production fully captures the play’s intensity and creepiness. Eileen Diss’ purposely dingy, junk-filled set, which is complimented by Colin Grenfell’s low lighting, contains a scrim at the back that allows us to see other characters when they are supposed to be offstage, which adds to the production’s air of suspense. (But it is unfortunate that the set should be unnecessarily pushed back, leaving a large space in between the set and the audience.) Tom Lishman’s sound design accentuates outside noises, such as rainwater and the subway, which uncomfortably invade the space.

Sporting a Welch accent and a scruffy beard, Pryce fully inhabits the role of Davies, growing in authoritative presence throughout the play and also offering some physical comedy. Cox is quite touching as Aston, while the leather-wearing Hassell is appropriately brutal and restless as Mick. 

 


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