The Lover – 4 stars
Review by Revonda Mehovic
“The Lover”: the first production of Bridge Repertory Theatre of Boston. Performances run now through March 17th at the Calderwood Pavillion located at 527 Tremont St., Boston. Written by Harold Pinter, directed by Shane Gozansky. Scenic and lighting Design by Luke Sutherland; sound design by Ed Young; costume design by the company; stage manager Kate Rourke; fight choreographer Angie Jepson. The current production stars McCaela Donovan, Joe Short, and Juan Rodriguez. Running time is 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission. More information on this and upcoming productions can be found at bridgerep.wordpress.com.
For their inaugural play, “The Lover” by noble laureate Harold Pinter, Boston’s newest theatre company,”Bridge Repertory Theatre” creates a sense of anticipation before the actors have even said their first lines. A man and a woman sit ramrod-straight in wooden chairs, their eyes covered with sleep masks as the audience fills in around the minimally decorated stage. The actors seem almost as much a part of the set as the table center stage, or the matching wardrobes. It’s eerie. The stage is at the same level as the audience, making it almost unbearably intimate. I found it hard to shake this feeling even after the play was in full swing. In Bridge Rep’s production of “The Lover”, you feel as though you are in the middle of a couple’s private battle to maintain their relationship. Unfortunately, they are unable to communicate in a direct manner. Instead, they resort to playing a ritualistic game where the lines between fidelity and infidelity blur.
In the beginning of “The Lover”, you are lulled into thinking that Richard, played by Joe Short, and Sarah, portrayed by McCaela Donovan, both members of the Actors’ Equity Association, have a stellar marriage. It seems not just perfect, but Disney-perfect. They awaken to romantic 1960’s prom music. As they dress in a synchronized fashion in his and her outfits of khaki and white, they manage to evoke the feeling of earlier musicals. Both Short and Donovan deserve kudos for pulling this stunt off with such grace. If they had less chemistry together, our introduction to them could have been nauseating. As it is, it manages to emphasize the artifice that permeates their marriage, but without being off-putting.
As they dance around each other, performing their morning routines, Richard and Sarah cast shy, yet genuine smiles at each other. Their comfort with each other and their respective roles in this Stepford-esque suburban lifestyle seems obvious. This seeming comfort soon dissolves when Richard yells over the vacuum cleaner to ask Sarah if her lover is coming over that day. From this point on, there seems to be a strain between them. Their conversation is glibly polite and seems less communicative than their earlier silences. This theme continues as the play progresses. Sarah and Richard are unable to communicate with each other on more than a superficial level unless they are involved in one of their erotic marital games. Rather than being titillating, these games come across as comically depressing, barely managing to disguise the emptiness in their lives.
Donovan and Short’s performances make “The Lover” worth seeing. They both throw themselves into their respective parts with a wild abandon that demonstrates an incredible depth of artistic range. They transform from their uptight, suburban roles into their various alter-egos with barely enough time to catch their breath. Short and Donovan make it painfully clear than none of the roles played by the married couple completely fulfills them. Their lives as content, sophisticated suburbanites is as artificial as all of their other caricatures. Yet, underneath all of these superficial interactions, Donovan and Short manage to convey a depth of feeling for each other that belies the necessity of all of the games. The overall effect is incredibly frustrating, like watching someone needlessly repeating the same mistake again and again.
“The Lover” is an interesting choice to use as a first performance piece. Written in 1962, it has not managed to completely stand the test of time, although it does have some poignant qualities. Many of the elements of “The Lover” which would have been shocking in the ’60’s are now fodder for sit-coms, such as the game where married people pretend to be other people in order to spice up their love life. I would love to see an updated version of this play. While we may not have the same gender-roles of the 60’s, we still have rituals that we use to maintain the status-quo. The director, Shane Gozansky manages to play around with this somewhat by having Sarah and Richard succumb to not only to their carnal desires for their alternate selves, but also to their insatiable lust for twinkies and natural light. This is a play which goes far, but not quite far enough.
“The Lover” manages to emphasize the difficulty of truly communicating, even with those to whom we think we are closest. I really enjoyed it, but found myself wanting more from the experience. This performance is like an appetizer, it leaves you barely sated and hungry for their next production.
For more information, see bridgerep.wordpress.com.