Stage Review: Two by Pinter

Opaque men meet haunted women.

The first full production from the new Shadow and Light Theatre, which plans mostly to present plays by Harold Pinter, is a pair of works with similar dynamics: Each features a man jealously trying to understand a haunted woman.In A Kind of Alaska, based on the Oliver Sacks book Awakenings, a woman named Deborah wakes from a 29-year bout of sleeping sickness (encephalitis lethargica), unable to recognize her surroundings or herself. Suzanne Bouchard brings intense nervous friction to the role, with engaging lags and surges of life force. Her sexy pixie haircut and perfect makeup seem a strange contrast to her wakeful sister Pauline's (Kimberly King) rumpled dowdiness, fostering the intriguing notion that the blandly attentive Dr. Hornby (Frank Corrado) was more married to his sleeping patient Deborah than to her healthy sister Pauline, his actual wife. Was Hornby meticulously doing Deborah's hair and makeup daily? Victor Pappas' direction seems a very straight reading of the text, and doesn't give Hornby much to do except for one funny moment when he reluctantly imitates what Deborah looked like in her sleep.In Ashes to Ashes, a conversation between a couple (Rebecca and Devlin, played by Bouchard and Corrado) goes from jocular to fraught and adversarial as the woman drops clues that she had been the lover of a foreign despot. It's not clear whether the allusions are true or some kind of fantasy projection, but they excite envy in alternately peevish and bemused Devlin, and he ultimately plays along. Bouchard's Rebecca is precise, committed, and deliciously unreadable.In an after-show Q&A, Bouchard observed that one must approach Pinter's plays as though interpreting dreams, without assigning right and wrong. Corrado said that for him the most distinguishing feature is how much participation is required on the part of the audience. Given the opacity of both of his roles here, I would have to agree.

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