In Harold Pinter’s humorously paranoid "The Caretaker," two rather bizarre but ordinary brothers, whose behavior fluctuates between schizoid, irrational, and spooky, deal with the intrusion into their environ of a grubby and homeless tramp. Here is essential Pinter, full of the symbols that the author won’t admit to, and the silences that actors reverentially commit to.
Whatever the scheme, there is an undeniable subconscious life to the characters that needs to be chillingly and dramatically brought to life. With that taken care of, the play boils down to a series of evasive clues and psychological banter designed to reveal the struggle of the ego to overthrow pride and self-esteem. If you allow yourself to go along for the ride, it can be fun. And it appears to be mostly fun that director David Jones is going for in the revival produced by the Roundabout Theater. I’ll buy it.
One of the brothers, whom we discover has had a brain operation rendering him virtually simple-minded, has offered a bed in his junk-filled attic to this seedy and strangely opinionated tramp. The tramp begins to imagine (or may not imagine) that he is being insulted, abused, and tormented by his host while he rants on about his need to secure some paper which will properly identify him since he has inexplicably been using an alias for the past 15 years.
The pathetically kind but distant brother responds with intense and sustained silences. This, while focusing his attention on building a workshop so he can fix things. The host’s brother completes the triangle. Owning the property as well as protecting his brother, his talkative and sometimes sinister behavior seem an almost diabolical counterpart to the other brother. The tramp, wanting to stay on as the caretaker, finds he has to fight for his self-esteem and dignity as well as his sanity while he tries to match wits with the two diverse (or split) personalities.
The struggle for the survival of pride over the deeper and more mysteriously impenetrable egos of the two brothers makes for a play that bristles with life on multiple levels. The Roundabout Theater has made a conscientious effort to keep the Pinter plays in the public view and this production, perfect for the absorption and digestion of Pinter, works best on the level of not trying to be unnecessarily profound.
Happily the three performances are as unnervingly disparate as they are complementary. In his moth-eaten overcoat and scraggly beard, Patrick Stewart, whose range has included everything from Miller ("The Ride Down Mt. Morgan"), Shakespeare ("The Tempest"), and Dickens ("A Christmas Carol"), to the original Jean Luc Picard in "Star Trek," gives texture to each detail of his nervously apprehensive character. Fear alternates with a caged animal’s aggressiveness as he struggles for survival. Britisher Aiden Gillen was splendid as the schizophrenic brother who stalks his prey with a diabolically evil pretense without losing a somewhat humorous undercoating.
Kyle MacLachlan, who will immediately be recognized as the FBI agent in David Lynch’s weird TV series "Twin Peaks," and roles in Lynch’s films "Dune" and "Blue Velvet," offered the quintessential semi-detached portrayal. Mostly silent, but with an intensity and self-absorption that rivets one’s attention, MacLachlan was a model of restrained involvement. John Lee Beatty’s deliciously dingy and cluttered set was what might be described as disposable. The appropriate third-hand garments by Jane Greenwood and appropriately grim lighting by Peter Kaczorowski primed Pinter’s puzzler. Three stars (You won’t feel cheated.)
The Caretaker , Roundabout at the American Airline Theater, 227 West 42nd Street, 212-719-1300. $41 to $66. To January 4.
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