“in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever icy and silent.”
Linda and I saw the play “No Man’s Land” at the Berkeley Rep last night. Yep, I am just that fancy, don’t you know.
I have to say, it was very awesome. But pretty crowded. Yes, the Berkeleyites were out in full force to watch Magneto and Picard square off in a battle of words, wit, and elegance.
I’m not a theater-goer generally, and not because I’m not interested — I just didn’t grow up with that. I don’t know how else to put it. I feel pretty ignorant of that entire realm of artistic expression. So, I’m always a little surprised, when I go, that it’s so entertaining. My brain thinks that watching a play is supposed to be a little like doing homework.
And since I’m ignorant of the form, I don’t really know what to expect about the theater-going crowd, other than poshness, I guess. Most of the people there were drinking wine, but it was from small, clear plastic containers with lids and those little straws you stir coffee with. It seems kind of hard to be posh while drinking wine in that way, but, there you go.
But anyway, the play. It’s a Harold Pinter play, and as I learned while reading the program, he’s kind of a big deal as far as plays go.
It was a very weird premise for a story (to me). A successful writer (Hirst [Patrick Stewart]), now old and senile, is manipulated by a pair of young thugs (Briggs [Shuler Hensley] and Foster [Billy Crudup]) and an old friend (Spooner [Ian McKellen]) that never amounted to much, but that the author knew when they were young at Oxford. Hirst has some demons: he’s a drunk, his wife drowned (I think?), and it seems like he was a real asshole in his youth.
That premise seems straightforward enough, but the play starts right in the middle of everything (obviously) and you have no way to understand these relationships except through the context of the dialogue, through the course of the play. That, plus Hirst is senile and being manipulated, so none of the characters are very reliable.
And I guess that’s just a thing about plays, or certain types of plays — it’s something that would only really make sense in a play, where you just can’t dispense that expositional information without something that just took you out of the play.
It all takes place in Hirst’s (totally awesome) parlor/bar/sometimes bedroom (for Spooner) and there are only four characters. Again, a very play-like thing that always seemed kind of amazing to me — they did it all in one take! in one little room! and there’s just four of them! wow!
The performances were all great, but I kind of expected that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen would be rad. I thought Crudup (Foster, the assistant/lover(?) of Hirst) and Hensley (Briggs) were so good. Crudup plays this dopey, protective, peacock of a man; and he does it with a lot of vigor, menace, and vulnerability. Shuler is the heavy of the story, and he is a large presence on stage — very intimidating. Totally different than he seems in any of the pictures of him in the program. With the confused main character and the shaded motivations of the other characters, there was a sense of bubbling violence underlying the scenes. Very tense.
And it was hilarious! In the way that plays can be hilarious, which I expect to be more punny, or roundabout. But it was just out and out funny many many times. Including this exchange, which I’m (at best) paraphrasing between Hirst, Briggs, and Foster:
B: You’re a cunt
H: How dare you?! He’s your friend.
B: That’s why I called him a cunt.
The apex of the story is an exchange between Hirst and Spooner in the second act — Hirst, lucid for really the first time in the play, starts calling Spooner by the name of a childhood friend, reminiscing (hilariously) about the longterm affair he had with his friend’s wife. Spooner at first seems to just be egging him on, but as it continues, it becomes clear that the stories are intermingling with real stories about Spooner and Hirst when they were young. Spooner and Hirst start really going after each other, and it feels like some truth is being doled out, until this rad dialog (which I just found on wikipedia):
(Hirst) “You are clearly a lout. The Charles Wetherby I knew was a gentleman. I see a figure reduced. I am sorry for you. Where is the moral ardour that sustained you once? Gone down the hatch,” after which, Briggs “enters, pours whisky and soda, gives it to” Hirst, who “looks at it” and then says, “Down the hatch. Right down the hatch. (He drinks.)”
Anyhow, a really wonderful thing to experience live. And we had good seats, so, yay again. It was a really impressive performance and an emotionally involving play.