Friday, May 30, 2008

The Power of Pinter at Berkshire Theatre Festival

James Barry as Mick (l) and Jonathan Epstein as Davies in The Caretaker opening the Berkshire Theatre Festival season.

When I walked into the Berkshire Theatre Festival's Unicorn Theatre last Sunday afternoon, I gave up the glorious Berkshire sunshine and lush carpet of green for the grey and dingy squalor of a London flat. In creating the set for their season opener, The Caretaker, scenic designer Jonathan Wentz has done such a convincing job of hopeless chaos, I wanted to escape back to the flowers of Spring, and the hope of renewal that was just beyond the theater walls.

Pinter is hard. If you take his work seriously, you have to surrender your own comfort level and exchange places with his sodden characters who have so little to live for. As the press release states so cooly:

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker is an enigmatic and sinister comedy about the struggle for power. The fragile relationship of two brothers, Aston and Mick, is turned upside down when Davies, a homeless man, enters their lives. Since its premiere in 1960, this play has been recognized as a landmark in 20th century drama.

Director Eric Hill comments: “I’m excited to examine the dramatic tension and mystery of Pinter – always a study in trying to get behind the words and underlying causes of the relationships.”

I think this play was a triumph as I wrote in my review in Berkshire Fine Arts, but it is also depressing. Honest examination of the human condition is rarely upliftiing, at least in Pinterland.

Larry Murray's review of "The Caretaker" in Berkshire Fine Arts

Just don't see it on a glorious spring day, save it for a cloudy or rainy one. Pinter is brilliant, this production is absorbing, but it is also deeply affecting.

I Am My Own Wife, the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf

Promo image from the movie "I Am My Own Woman" which tells the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf as a young man (center), a young woman (left) and Charlotte herself in her later years.
Vince Gatton as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in "I Am My Own Wife" at Barrington Stage Company through June 8.

The Barrington Stage Company under Julianne Boyd has been taking a lot of risks in recent years, starting with their move to Pittsfield from Great Barrington. Happily most of their regular audiences took the change in stride. They too benefit from a wonderful new theatre and larger base of fellow theater-goers. The company is no longer just a summer operation, it presents plays almost year round.

So it was only a small surprise when they announced they were doing the Doug Wright Tony and Pulitzer winning I Am My Own Wife with the incredibly talented Vince Gatton playing the three dozen or so roles in this one man play.

At Berkshire Fine Arts, Charles Giuliano did the lead review, and declared it more powerful and absorbing than the original Broadway production:

Charles Giuliano's Review of "I Am My Own Wife" in Berkshire Fine Arts

Charles and I decided this play deserved more attention than just a single review, and so I undertook to write a second story, detailing the conflicts and debates that still rage about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. She was the one and only transvestite to reign in Berlin during the Communist era.

In my research on Charlotte, I read numerous other takes on her life. The best of the lot was in a review of her film, I Am My Own Woman, found at Planet Out. Its details were a little too frank for inclusion in my own article in Berkshire Fine Arts.

Popcorn Movie Review

Now a 60-something lady who loves to don Victorian lingerie and display her ever-youthful butt, Charlotte speaks fondly of her mostly deceased ex-lovers. She's always had a penchant for older men, and time has outrun most of them.

There was a time, after the Wall went up, when gay East Berliners were barred from meeting one another in public; gay bars were closed and gays were prohibited from placing "contact ads" in newspapers or magazines. That's when Charlotte met one of her great loves in response to a number scrawled on the wall of a public latrine.

Her story seemed to both absorb and mystify many in the Berkshires audience who listened in polite, presumably stunned, silence. There is wonderful humor in the production, but not many in the opening night audience laughed. So I quietly chuckled as the bon mots were delivered by Gatton.

In my treatment, I decided that Charlotte was not only his own wife, but her own husband as well. You can read why I came to that conclusion here:

Larry Murray on Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in Berkshire Fine Arts