Harold Pinter’s short play,
Rising Phoenix Repertory have a good crack at a smelly and stubborn play.
Victor is tortured and Nicolas is tortured. Gila is his wife (and barely features). There’s little content, so the RPR’s production aims to run on feeling, especially the menace for which Pinter is famous.
But not much is made of One for the Road’s script. The image of a little and a big finger approaching someone’s eyes is openly polysemic, but that is all it is, and it’s oddly a great indicator of the play en masse. The words occur, repeat but there’s no emotional grounding for them. For instance, Louise Dylan’s Gila is mostly silent, and when she does speak she’s used as a device to augment the brutality. She’s there for the audience to be told she has been raped; a sociopathic insert by Pinter to up the despair, though RPR’s take hasn’t framed this as anything other than what it seems on the page.
And this is how the rest goes, although not as tastelessly. Language is flung at a wall to see what sticks. The words shock without building anything with the fragments of our short-term perception and, as soon as something could stir, it’s thrust again into numbing repetition.
It does appear as though I am blaming RPR’s production rather than the text, because productions add context to the relative skeleton of a drama, but the blame works two ways. One for the Road isn’t a skeleton: it’s a heap of bones, so it’s worth considering how the Rising Phoenix Repertory create something consistent and a little hypnotising out of it. Mauricio Salgado’s direction forms a correspondence between Pinter’s sharp, repetitious dialogue and sharp, repetitious actions, all backed by a liminal tick-tock. Chairs are spun around; Gila stumbles back and forth up stage; Nicolas presents his fingers in the same clinical sequence each time. It would put an audience into a thrall if the language didn’t double back on itself. There’s also a bracing turn by Seth Numrich as the torturer (and apparently apparatchik) Nicolas fighting to maintain his precision in the face of his bestialism taking over—a coolly controlled bout of uncontrollable cruelty.
Torture still exists, so the piece retains content-relevance. Formwise, Rising Phoenix Repertory have a good crack at a smelly and stubborn play, and for that they deserve their fair helping of praise.