Pinter As a Sketch Artist (Part 1)
Easy Laughs With Minimal Menace: Sketch Night returns to ACT August 23rd
For much of this evening of largely light fare the highlights of Sex, Trouble, and Taxi #274 give us Pinter as light comic in a style not far removed from Monty Python. The low points feel like tepid high-school fare played by actors who exceed the material. The acting is high-caliber all around. What’s more, both cast an audience have a good time with easy laughs in the casual setting of the Bullitt Cabaret theatre. Stick around for the final act of the night and you’ll witness Pinter in miniature: simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.
The opening act of this set of sketches efficiently directed by Jane Kaplan features David Pichette, who recently appeared as Jacques in Seattle Shakes’s As You Like It. Here he squares off with that production’s Touchstone, Darragh Kennan. The sketch milks comic mileage out of the ludicrous jargon of manufacturing with vaguely risqué-sounding concoctions of mechanism named and repeated. The context of the jargon could be the undoing of Pichette’s character but he plays this manufacturer with histrionics that suggest Grover of The Muppets, making for a pleasant almost thoughtless piece of comedy.
One of a series of admirably efficient set changes leads to a discussion of village shopping habits played by Suzy Hunt and Julie Briskman in That’s All. Pinter’s keen ear for the inanities of small talk is almost straightforward here as Hunt’s character obsesses over who shops where when and the near scandal of broken habits. Hunt makes some surprising but spot-on choices in this diatribe while Brinkman keeps the life in a litany of head-nodding responses.
In That’s Your Trouble Charles Leggett and Darragh Kennan reverse the power dynamic of their fine performances in The Dumb Waiter. Here Kennan has the upper hand and all the presumption of knowledge. The dialogue in this piece has more substance and less import than that of their longer and better-known two-hander. Leggett and Kennan play the scene in a self-conscious, almost mechanized physical style emphasizing the pugilistic rhythm of the encounter. That’s Your Trouble comes off as a verbal transposition of a back alley dust-up where the outcome was never in doubt.
In Special Offer Mariel Neto faces hard economic times and an advertisement that suggests an opportunity for her to view a man with the same objectivity that many of Pinter’s male characters view women. The suggestion is enough to make some in the audience cheer in their laughter and applause.
The weakest piece in the evening, The Applicant, lets Kennan mug while Brendan Patrick Hogan’s sound design dispenses with any notion of realism favoring more musical effects that provide the modicum of interest in this piece. One can’t help wondering if underplaying and emphasizing Brinkman’s character’s verbal onslaught would have made a more compelling piece, but the silliness is more in keeping with the evening as a whole.
The ironically titled Dialogue for Three features Neto delivering a scorchingly sensuous monologue in the midst of inconsequential natterings of Leggett and Kennan. Her character’s guilelessness is striking in contrast to her earlier appearance in the sketches while Leggett’s non-response seats this set of monologues in the heart of Pinterland.
The scene change between the last two acts of the evening is a great performance in itself and wins applause for Leggett and company. The piece that follows fades away over a series of possible false endings but provides the most sustained and fully realized example of Pinter’s work.
In Victoria Station Pichette returns with similar impotent exasperation to his first appearance but instead of facing Kennan’s cool confidence he is undone by stupidity so obstinate it verges on the sinister. Tiny fractures appear in the dialogue between Pichette’s dispatcher and Leggett’s cabbie in which Pichette’s comic rage falters in fear. There are moments in which Leggett’s stupidity seems knowing. Even violence can have no impact on the cabbie’s trap. For the dispatcher there is no escape; for the audience it is as challenging and engaging as this first round of sketches gets.
Sex, Trouble, and Taxi #274 has a final performance on Thursday, August 23. The rest of The Pinter Festival including The Dumb Waiter and Celebration, Old Times and No Man’s Land wraps up on Saturday, August 25.