Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Neal Checkoway
This semi-autobiographical play is about the lies and evasions that inevitably accompany an extra-marital affair. Ultimately, all trust is destroyed and what once was love and friendship becomes anger and sadness. Pinter’s handling of the play is interesting as he goes back in time – he begins with bitterness and ends with hope – which of course we know will end in unhappiness and mutual discord. Neal Checkoway’s use of a revolving stage is extraordinarily effective, as there are nine scenes which would have been difficult to handle on a normal stage. The sets were simply wonderful. Before I saw the play I thought the time and place might be confusing, but actually there was no problem – I always knew where we were and what year it was.
In the program notes, Checkoway says that the play is “about stereotypical Englishness: politeness, repression, small talk and conversational camouflage.” And this is certainly a part of Pinter’s style, but there is also an edge beneath the camouflage, and a bitterness beneath the politeness. These elements are skillfully delivered by a strong cast. Dave McIntosh was believable as “Robert,” the deceived husband – there was plenty of cynicism in his portrayal of Robert, who also deceives his wife “Emma” and his best friend “Jerry.”
There were dramatic moments in the play – for example in the scene between Robert and Emma in Venice – which had the audience holding their breath because of the underlying intensity. The two lovers – Jerry and Emma – were both played by newcomers to the LLT stage. Richard Varney performed well as Jerry, and was clearly English from the moment he stepped on stage – I hope we will see him again in a more sympathetic role. Jacinta Stringer played Emma effectively with minimal expression, and this was probably Pinter’s intention in the way that the play was written.
There’s a scene in which Emma and Robert are giving up their little “flat” where I thought there could have been more emotion from both actors. And I found the final scene (which is the earliest in time) to be mysterious – why does Robert walk out and leave the would-be lovers alone? I would have preferred to see him put his arm affectionately around Jerry’s shoulder. Finally, Geoff Long was excellent in a cameo part as an Italian waiter. On the whole, it was an unusual and very interesting play, well paced and brilliantly staged.
A major highlight of the play was the revolving stage and the set. I congratulate the entire construction crew headed by Dave Hutchinson, and also Beth Cathcart and Neal Checkoway for the stunning set designs. I hope the revolving stage can now be used for future plays, and this will greatly expand the opportunities for multi-scene productions. Shellie Checkoway was the very busy Producer, Margo Eberly was Stage Manager and Gale Bildfell was Assistant Stage Manager.
Next up is Sinderella, a musical comedy created by Dave McIntosh and directed by Paul Kloegman. It’s a pantomime for adults, opening on December 5 and running through December 16.