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The Lover & The Collection ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 7, 2017 

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The Lover opens a door onto a middle class couple conversing in their mid-century modern living room.  Richard (Patrick Kennedy) and Sarah (Lisa Dwan) have been married ten years.  Over martinis they discuss how they spent their afternoon with their respective lovers.  They appear emotionally, and inexplicably, detached – aloof about their spouse’s peccadilloes, and eager to overshare.  They quaintly thrust and parry, delivering jealousy-inducing blows with accuracy.  But neither flinches.  With the unflappable reserve of the English stiff upper lip, they regard each other with all the enthusiasm of a scientific experiment while challenging one another with wild tales of their extramarital exploits.  Perhaps, that was Pinter’s intent – to examine the differences between the sexes with a calculatingly eye towards achieving parity.  “Frankness at all costs,” demands Richard.  Or perhaps, it’s just an exercise in existentialism with the audience as voyeuristic dupes?

Ultimately, it is merely vexing.  Why, you wonder, are they so blasé about infidelity? Why should we care about them and their outcome when they are so cruel to each other?  When Pinter wrote these set pieces we were coming out of the Beatnik era and into the sexual revolution.  It was a time when “being cool” was crucial, and being closed-minded was decidedly “uncool”.  But who was being served?

In this one-acter, Richard and Sarah vie for power in a sexually-charged marriage.  As their erotic role-playing becomes fiercer, they switch off roles of dominance and submission.  It’s a no-win game that plays out in dispassionate insults and fantasy vignettes, with a milkman as red herring thrown in to divert.

Photo of Patrick Ball as Bill and Jack Koenig as Harry

Photo of Patrick Ball as Bill and Jack Koenig as Harry ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The Collection is a more diverting tale with a somewhat meatier storyline.  Two gay men, one a well-to-do elderly man, Harry (Jack Koenig), the other his fancy boy, Bill, the fashion designer (Patrick Ball), live together in a bespoke home in London amid a collection of antiques and Oriental vases.  Bill appears to be caught in a tangle.  Did he sleep with a woman on a business trip, or did she fabricate the story to make her husband jealous?  “Did you have a good time in Leeds last week,” James asks accusingly.

Photo of Lisa Dwan as Stella

Photo of Lisa Dwan as Stella ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

As a mystery, it’s no Agatha Christie – far too many holes in it.  As in, why would Harry welcome the low-class, middle-aged stranger, James (Patrick Kennedy), into his home for a chat?  Who does that?  And why would he and Bill ultimately befriend James with promises of a posh life when he accuses James of blackmail?  James’ own wife Stella (Lisa Dwan) would have had her reputation destroyed in a divorce case if that had been his intent, which it appears it isn’t.  But let’s not allow details to get in the way.

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard

Lisa Dawn as Sarah and Patrick Kennedy as Richard ~Photo credit Carol Rosegg

The action picks up when young Bill is alone with the canny and violent James.  Together they play a macabre dance with Bill trying to determine James’ intent and James playing cat-and-mouse with the vulnerable Bill.  Their conversation, as in the couple in The Lover is as dry as the proverbial bone, until Harry appears, toys with James’ affections, and Bill is treated like a disposable house guest.

Under the direction of Michael Kahn, these four actors do an exceptional job of tackling this anachronistic fluff, but to what end?  In both of these productions cruelty and degradation win out in the end – a Pyrrhic victory all around.

Though October 29th at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.

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