by Maggie Kulbokas
Such a treat to see two vastly different, wonderfully acted plays about the same topic--the ever-evolving relationship between husband and wife. For it's third outing WHAT gives us a pair of one act plays "The Lover" and "Ashes to Ashes" presented together as "The Lovers". Both were penned by the remarkable British playwright, Harold Pinter. These two plays about marriage, star Stephen Russell as the male lead in both offerings and Rachel Harker as the female lead. Perhaps in a Pinter-esque twist, the shows are deftly directed by Harker's real life husband, Rick Lombardo.
Russell as Richard, a dapper accounts executive, embarks on his morning commute into the city with a peck on his wife's cheek and the simple query, "is your lover coming today?" Odd question for a husband to ask his wife--but oh so Pinter. And odd that Harker as Rachel, Richard's classy, seemily respectable wife, would answer her husband so readily. The two engage it what appears to be upfront discussion about blatant adultery. But as it turns out--they speak of a fantasy life that has evolved over their ten years of marriage. A fantasy, perhaps, intended to strenghten and improve their marriage. Will fantasy improve the reality of their lives or erase and erode it?
Perhaps it is in fantasy that one can find absolute truth. Marriage is a coming together of two differently feeling and thinking people. People with fears, jealousies, yearnings--all perfect fodder for Pinter's twists and dialogue. Harker and Russell have a wonderful chemistry together. The intimate size of WHAT's venue thrusts the audience into the tempest that is Richard and Sarah's relationship. The audience can feel the twists and turns that shape their marriage and perception of themselves and each other.
While "The Lover" was a bit darkly whimsical and randy, "Ashes to Ashes" was provocative and intense. It is here that Rachel Harker shines in her role as Rebecca.
The scene opens on Rebecca curled up in an armchair, comforted by the sound of a distance siren. She is being questioned by Devlin who at first seems to be more of a therapist than a husband. He quizzes her about a previous relationship with a man who, to her, represents both eroticism and brutality. Devlin pressures Rebecca to tell him about this man--what he looked like, what he did for a living, if Rebecca was involved with him during or before her marriage to Devlin.
Rebecca's answers are senseless and hard to follow. She is tortured and haunted by something, but what? The audience can feel Devlin's frustration. He is not getting the answers he wants. Rebecca appears to almost be drugged. She offers bits and pieces--pain, atrocity, sadness. Is she remembering something true? Is it a dream or something she read about long ago?
Again, Russell and Harker share the same chemistry they had in "The Lover." But here the atmosphere is darker and more foreboding as Devlin tries desperately to make sense of his scarred wife. Rachel Harker's performance draws the audience towards the stage--her words making them restless and uncomfortable.
Russell and Harker do an admirable job with Pinter's two plays. Pinter's dialogue is often an oxymoron--his characters speak with a simplistic perplexity teeming with innuendo and feeling. Do the characters mean what they say or is there a scratch-beneath-the-surface darkness and mystery in the words? The direction and stage design added to Russell and Harker's acting, make for a thoughtful performance you won't want to miss.