Fifty-five years after its premiere, Harold Pinter’s “The Caretaker” still retains its dark, absurdist mysteries that any production must attempt to solve. South Stream Productions’ staging offers new angles to contemplate and is a good introduction to the play’s mesmerizing, often frightening world.
Little action takes place in the ramshackle, junk-filled room, which appears to belong to laconic, laid-back Aston and seems to be owned by Mick, Aston’s excitable, aggressive brother. After Aston takes in Davies, a homeless man Aston saved from a beating, Mick questions Davies’ motives but eventually offers a room to rent.
Separately, each brother hires Davies as caretaker for the property, setting up a conflicting interplay that unsettles Davies. He eventually sides with Mick after learning Aston has mental problems, but Mick defends his brother who, in turn, asks Davies to leave.
The play’s ambiguities allow many interpretations, touching on loneliness, social ills, familial difficulties and corrupting power. Some productions can be pompous and severe, but director Jaybird O’Berski gives this staging bustling energy and vibrant humor, eliminating most of the famous Pinter pauses. He links the play’s three short acts into one 90-minute roller-coaster ride that alternates realism with the unexplainable.
This version is set in 1970s New York City, with the changes in numerous British references not really affecting the material’s punch. O’Berski’s set design is an astonishing jungle of old chairs, lamps, boxes, ladders and even the kitchen sink, so thick the actors must push their way through for every move. A single hanging bulb adds a claustrophobic feel, heightening the growing tensions.
John Honeycutt quickly establishes a multidimensional character as Davies, by turns boastful, conniving, bumbling and pitiable. His disheveled appearance and world-weary stance mimic what is seen on our streets every day. Ryan Brock gives Mick appropriate nervous energy and scary menace, impressive in his several manic catalogings of plans and dreams. Brook North’s Aston is convincingly zoned out, moving in his climactic monologue about Aston’s devastating mental institution stay.
Opening night found all three actors still nailing down their urban accents, North’s often unintelligible in his short, clipped responses. Pacing and timing were also still being settled, something these veterans will likely have worked out by now.