No Man’s Land
The working-class Brits turned poets in the 1950s by Harold Pinter give way to characters lost in a world of affluent privilege in No Man’s Land, the master wordsmith’s fascinatingly ambiguous 1974 play, but oddly, these guys don’t seem a lot happier—or less pissed off at their place in the world—than their earlier counterparts.
This new mounting at the dauntless Theatre/Theater marks the directorial debut of the complex’ own Nicolette Chaffey, who plays a Pinter-esque game with her own marriage by directing her husband, co-artistic director husband Jeff Murray, in the play’s demandingly difficult pivotal role. Obviously there’s a mutual respect here for one another’s unswerving and most dependable talents, because Murray is simply mesmerizing as wealthy booze-sotted Hirst, a successful novelist who uses his grandly appointed Hampstead mansion mainly as a place to drink himself into oblivion on a daily basis rather than live.
Into Hirst’s dysfunctional abyss of an existence comes Spooner (Will Utay), a shabby but somewhat arrogant fellow Hirst presumably met during his usual evening of barhopping and consuming massive quantities of both vodka and scotch. As his guest regales himself with florid stories boasting of his exploits and under-appreciated talents as a poet, Hirst gets steadily drunker, perhaps to tune out the pompous you-know-what up, eventually crawling—literally—to bed as Spooner watches like a hawk about to pounce on his prey.
Chaffey makes an auspicious directorial debut with this remarkably unadorned and straightforward presentation, creating a quiet yet palpable sense of danger lurking just below the properly England manners of its characters.
Utay is a nearly perfect Spooner, although he settles on honoring Pinter’s typically opaque language without giving us a sense of why he’s saying what he does. Andreas Brendle makes a wonderful Briggs, the more disquieting of the pair of Hirst’s menservants who seem to watch over him with a degree of ominous control (although his volume should be increased to offset his German accent or we miss too much), and Brenden Morgan has the almost creepy catlike grace and percolating menace of a street-boy made reluctant hero in a play by Joe Orton.
Still the trio of intriguing supporting performances in No Man’s Land eventually bow to the work of Murray, who gives one of the most compellingly assured, indelibly heartbreaking performances on any LA stage this year, an almost Zen-like turn intensified by the feeling this actor is completely relaxed and at home from the first moments the lights come up, which of course he is, since Murray also built the theatre and the stage he and Chaffey can now definitively claim as their own.
No Man’s Land plays through July 7 at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Bl., LA; for tickets, call 323.938.4220.