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.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.