The games people play

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  October 7, 2009

Deep in the second act of The Caretaker (at Central Square Theater through November 1), John Kuntz’s Aston, apparently intent on the scrap of lumber he’s alternately sanding and measuring, describes his youthful stay in a psychiatric hospital. The long speech starts conversationally — its only witness a scrofulous old derelict wrapped in filthy bedclothes and possibly asleep — before turning into a vividly relived flight over the cuckoo’s nest, albeit one more introverted than Randle McMurphy’s. Kuntz’s eyes burn so intensely as he simultaneously considers his wood and the wounding past that you’d swear the “big pincers” were still on his head, lighting up the interior. It was the only moment of the Nora Theatre Company revival of the 1960 Harold Pinter classic that really sang to me — which is not to say the play, despite the chalk dust of a thousand high-school classrooms, doesn’t hum along, its insidious power plays and lyrical panegyrics to interior decoration intact.

Director Daniel Gidron does it by the book, as perhaps one must with the late Nobel laureate’s black-comic allegory about two pipe-dreaming brothers and the dirty, elderly intruder who is invited by one into the junk-strewn West London room where the play is set, then tries — with hilarious presumption if without ultimate success — to play the two off against each other. Like Waiting for Godot, to which it is often compared, the play mixes tragicomedy with vaudeville, and its rhythms are precise. Gidron tries to enfold them in a sort of naturalism — which is certainly better than fielding Pinter-pausing zombies. And the production achieves its goal of respectfully, even poignantly presenting a once-groundbreaking work (the original of which is preserved in Pinter’s own 1963 film adaptation, as directed by Clive Donner). Still, it’s not perfect. Joe Lanza captures the mercurial Mick’s silkiness but not his menace, and Michael Balcanoff conveys hobo Davies’s puling buoyancy but not his full wiliness and seediness. Even Kuntz, his shoulders stiff, his eyes darting, sometimes appears to be acting. The accents, too, go in and out — as if they were being screwed on and off like the room’s bare light bulb.

Except that the title is taken, Ronan Noone might have called Little Black Dress (at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through October 24) American Gigolo. Like The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag, the final leg of the Irish trilogy that made the playwright’s name, this Kansas-set black comedy has as its seed a “gigolo business” in which a couple of enterprising young bucks posing as window washers make their daytime rounds servicing sexually frustrated married women. “De-stressing” is what 19-year-old gigolo mogul Charly Prescott, trying to enlist stoner chum Jimmy Beaudreaux Jr. in his heretofore one-man enterprise, calls the Oedipal aid he provides — to, among others, Jimmy’s attractive 41-year-old mom, Amy, who can’t get no satisfaction from interested but insensitive factory-worker spouse Jimmy Sr., with whom she’s been saddled since high school.

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