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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Caretaker

The Caretaker
Jonathan Epstein and Tommy Schrider
Berkshire Theatre Festival opens its eightieth season in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with a staccato, disturbing, cutting-edge production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. Performed on the thrust stage within The Unicorn Theatre which ensures that theatergoers cannot possibly escape, director Eric Hill coaxes the maximum from his three affecting actors. Hitch a ride to the theater where The Caretaker continues through June 28th.  This is high-caliber art which will shake you.

Jonathan Epstein plays Davies, a homeless yet self-important man who elicits no sympathy from the audience. An individual who owns nothing, he still thinks highly of himself. Given a bed to sleep on by Aston (Tommy Schrider) on the second floor of a junk-filled west London house, Davies complains about the trappings, shows scorn rather than gratitude when offered a pair of shoes ...

Aston, wearing the same slightly wrinkled dark suit throughout, explains, through a lengthy monologue just before intermission, the circumstances of his lobotomy, performed years ago. Now he stares forward into a seeming void, walks mechanically, answers robotically—yet, within his own existence, feels compassion for his new guest.

Mick (James Barry) is Aston's younger brother. He is a scathing, ruthless type of man who does not live in the messy room. Rather, Mick, situated elsewhere, verbalizes a scheme through which he could create some sort of (imagined) empire.

Scenic designer Jonathan Wentz has created a disaster area of a living space, filled with, for example, old wood, broken down lamps, a suitcase, hand lawn mower, shopping cart, and so on. Matthew E. Adelson's lighting facilitates mood shift and becomes a vital performance asset. J. Hagenbuckle's musical compositions are harsh, abrasive and so suitable.

Epstein has demonstrated many times over (through a variety of roles in BTF and Shakespeare&Company plays) his mastery as an actor. Inhabiting Davies, for him, means: physically finding the character, punctuating his lines with a variety of indicative voices, shifting tone and emotion swiftly. Epstein is a larger-than-life performer and he presents Davies as one who wishes to dominate space on a stage. It's a bravura turn.

Schrider's Aston is rigid and disciplined and the actor holds the character with enviable consistency. Barry, as the diabolical and sinister Mick, is persuasive and unwavering.

Within the context of The Caretaker rests a primary question: Who is really the caretaker? Davies, without any means whatsoever, might yet become a caretaker. And what of the brothers Mick and Aston who might be perceived as caretakers?

Pinter's script is filled with disconnects and pauses which have been scripted quite by design. It is upsetting, occasionally comedic, and acute.

So that leaves Eric Hill. The term director neither honors nor explicates Hill's catalytic role in staging The Caretaker since his vision involves consummate interpretation of the play. A skilled and versatile actor, director and teacher, Hill ranks as a foremost multi-dimensional dramatist. He honors scripts while amplifying their potential. That is what occurs with The Caretaker. Looking at the spine of this play, Hill finds very little plot. His actors are people with whom he's worked previously the director must realize that prospective theatergoers will not like any of their characters.  Pinter's outlook is nothing short of bleak. Given all of this, Hill gets into and beneath the script. His actors provide enduring, penetrating, mindful portrayals of Mick, Aston, and Davies. No one leaves this theater happily entertained. Everyone, however, is thinking.

The Caretaker continues in the Unicorn Theatre at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through June 28th. For ticket information, call (413) 298-5576 or visit www.berkshiretheatre.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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