Greetings from Week Two of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's Harold Pinter festival, and its staging of his 1975 play No Man's Land.
Where does a poor, beleaguered reviewer start?
To paraphrase Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express: "There are two solutions to this mystery. One is simple -- the other far more complex."
The simple answer to "What is No Man's Land about?" is: The wealthy and withdrawn Hirst has invited home a down-and-almost-out poet named Spooner. Hirst has on his staff two men, Foster and Boggs, whose main duty seems to be to exude menace and dark sexuality.
Hirst and Spooner spend most of the night and early morning drinking without cease and reminiscing without restraint, with Foster and Boggs occasionally popping in to add more dread and mystery.
Morning brings more ambiguity and alcohol, and then the show draws to its close.
That's the simple answer. The more complex is: "I don't have the slightest clue."
Oblique, inscrutable, unyielding ... just a few of the words which could define No Man's Land. You're tempted to dismiss it as nonsense -- and then suddenly Pinter slams you in the face with brilliant writing. The characters don't make much sense, yet never do anything out of character. Pinter creates a world without explicitly defining it, but it's never without definition. We can feel the combat underneath, the stakes and the aftermath, but to explain in the cold light of day is impossible.
A play like this can succeed only with a flawless production. PICT starts off at a huge advantage by casting some of the best actors around: Sam Tsoutsouvas, Jarrod DiGiorgi, David Whalen and that consummate theatrical genius Rick McMillan. You'll never assemble a better crew.
So I'm guessing that everybody is as gobsmacked as me, and spent rehearsals just trying to figure the play out: The production, on opening night at least, was still finding its way.
Director Andrew S. Paul oversees several flashes of electrifying theater, but the evening lacks the unifying attack which would unite the play's disparate elements.
None of this, by the way, should be taken as a serious complaint. No Man's Land is the type of work you could spend a whole lifetime studying. The fact that this production needs more than the few weeks of rehearsal allotted to it is no surprise at all.
No Man's Land continues through Aug. 21. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org