Monday, December 16, 2013

One For The Road

Playwright: Harold Pinter

Venue:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre Street, Colorado Springs CO, 80909.

Running Time:  40 minutes (15 minute intermission)

Date of Performance:  Friday, December 13, 2013
Harold Pinter is probably one of the most influential of 20th century British writers; he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.  His plays are a melange of politics, activism, and absurdity; his characters are often innocent but subjected to threatening, intimidating situations in which the results are unpredictable.  "One for the Road" is a one act play with Pinter's style and attitude on full display.
Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) chose "One for the Road" as its holiday offering.  Hardly a traditional "holiday" play, "One for the Road" is not intended to be warm, fuzzy, or sentimental.  It's a brief but hard look at government run amok, riding roughshod over innocent citizens for no apparent reason.  While I would not have chosen "One for the Road" as a holiday treat, SET reminds us how fortunate we are this holiday season.
Absurdity should be understood through comparisons; the disconnect between the apparent meaning of a situation and its very lack of meaning creates absurdities.  "One for the Road" presents us with government detention, interrogation, torture and murder, all of which cry out for a legally justified context.  Pinter gives us no such context or meaning to which we can compare the cruelty.  The absurdity of Victor, Gila, and Nicky's situation is extremely painful to watch.
Director Sarah S. Shaver punctuates Pinter's absurdity with Christmas carol interludes between scenes.  It's a stark and somewhat shocking way to emphasize the depravity and desperation for the characters, and by extension, for the audience.  
Shaver's direction and pacing is crisp, the entire production plays out in a fleeting 40 minutes.  Staged in the round, one gets a very intimate experience.  Never more than dozen feet or so from the actors, the audience is part of the production.
Matt Radcliffe (Victor) is particularly effective.  Much of his performance is delivered through gestures and facial expressions; he actually has very few lines.  He flawlessly conveys the stupor, the distrust, and the emotional damage of a torture victim.  Two tours in Iraq gave Radcliffe a close up look at the absurdities of war; he brings that experience to the stage and it shows in his performance.
Miriam Roth Ballard (Gila) and Aidan Carter (Nicky) both shine their roles.  Carter is a 7th grader who is a gifted actor well beyond his years.  Roth Ballard gives us a frightening look at the face of a victim of torture and repeated rape.
Aidan Carter (Nicky) and Karl Brevik (Nicolas)
Karl Brevik (Nicolas) plays the principle character in "One for the Road."  He is convincingly evil as the purveyor of mayhem and torture, all of which occurs offstage.  Brevik's lack of any discernible justification or emotional connection to the entire situation make him a particularly menacing character.  Unfortunately, he stumbled on his last line at this performance.  That last line is crucial to Pinter's story.  Brevik quickly corrected the line, but some of the impact was lost.
While not a traditional holiday play, I would recommend Pinter's script and SET's production in any season.  Torture is an important, if somewhat obscure, moral dilemma in US politics.  While some may casually justify it on the grounds of self-defense, Americans generally consider torture beneath us and morally reprehensible. Although water boarding and other means of torture were legally justified during the Bush administration, public opinion is still basically opposed to torture.  
Pinter forces us to observe victims of torture, and SET puts us in the room with those victims.  We can see their faces, their physical and emotional injuries, and their humanity.  Pinter and SET challenge us to morally justify what we see.  
It's a challenge that, in my view, cannot be met.

This show closed on December 14, 2013.  
"One for the Road" contains adult language and adult situations.  Mature teens can probably handle Pinter and this performance, but it is not appropriate for younger children. 
Pre or post show dining suggestions:  China Village, 203 North Union Boulevard, Colorado Springs CO.  Close to the theater, ample parking in the back, and delicious Sesame Chicken.

Director:  Sarah S. Shaver
Scenic Design/Props:  June Scott Barfield
Sound Design:  Max Ferguson
Lighting Design:  Jenny Maloney
Costume Design:  Stephanie Schlis

Nicolas:  Karl Brevik
Victor:  Matt Radcliffe
Gila: Miriam Roth Ballard

Nicky:  Aidan Carter