If you are interested in a play about the psychological deterioration of two people, make a beaten path to "A Slight Ache" by Harold Pinter Upstairs at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre running through October 9th in the North Hollywood Arts District.
The story of a mysterious Match-seller and the couple who invite him inside their home is nothing less than British playwright Harold Pinter at his most magical, mercurial and magnetic.
The language may sift through waters touched by time, dialect and fantasy, but the truth ensconced in the words never runs away.
Whether the Nobel Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, director and actor is beating the absurdist drum cannot clearly be affirmed.
What can be verified is that the surrealist playwright, who wrote this play in 1958, is once again seemingly asking more of the audience than the players.
The Match-seller's appearance from some existential plane or realm forces the couple of Edward and Flora to confront long-hidden secrets, fears and insecurities that lead to a dark outcome under a cheesecake moon.
This painful exercise in self-revelation goes to the person who weathers life's battles with the most grace and Forest Gumpian gumption.
Pinter, whose writing career spanned more than five decades, seems to be giving us the option of accepting reality as it is or as he wishes us to see it.
In the end, one idea rings truer than church bells on Christmas Eve: man's greatest enemy is himself.
The direction of veteran television actor Kevin Dobson (Kojak, Knot's Landing) crystallizes Pinter's desires and needs while taking aim at existence's mad and miraculous ways.
Dobson has a meaningful and substantive approach towards the complex and rich language. He allows the actors to be themselves and does not stand in the way of the heavy drama and action.
The veteran theatre actor allows the pointed Pinteresque poetry to sing and sway as three people dance a Tango of death and destruction only one of them seems to be aware of.
To his credit, Dobson understands the playwright's pet peeves and instinctual potent pragmatism and addresses them passionately and progressively, leaving out his personal opinion of the material.
One of the Group Repertory's founding members has assembled a gifted cast of three that comprehends the textured and timely nature of Pinter's material.
Stand outs include:
Michael Robb (Edward) who almost runs away with the play with a searing and salient portrayal that leaves us, the audience, wanting more and panting less. His characterization is spot-on and combines intelligence, emotion and spirit for as complete a turn as this critic has ever seen an actor give not only at the Group Repertory, but anywhere.
But it is Marcia Woodridge (Flora) who steals the show with a performance for the ages. Whether sexually, intimately and playfully toying with the welcomed guest or dealing with a wasp to begin the play, the Academy of Dramatic Arts student's portrayal arrests time and populates paradise.
The veteran classical and modern actress (Shakespeare, Moliere, Brecht, Albee, Shaw and Simon) forces you to consider the proceedings with clear eyes, ears and palms while begging you to do something about the world you reside in with ardor, flow and desire.
Few performers can make you think and act at the same time, but Woodridge possesses the rare gift in spades.
This critic hopes to see the New York stage veteran on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
Also furthering the message of the play are the set and light consultation of J. Kent Inasy, Steve Shaw's sound design and Angela M. Eads' costume design.
All in all, "A Slight Ache" succeeds because of the melodramatic, melodic and misunderstood cadences, rhythms and rhymes of playwright Harold Pinter, not despite them.
It is a work of striking beauty and unmolested fear that takes us, the audience, on a journey towards the light not away from it.
Pinter's prickly porcupine of a play moves along at just the right pace (1:15), taking and giving in equal amounts until we no longer fear our shadow or tremble at the make-believe monster from our childhood.
The British bard is courageous. He asks us to love and give while still on this alabaster orb, to use drama and language as a means for good.
Pinter wants us to color his work in azure and gray, turquoise and May.
He does not ask why, only how, when, not wherefore.
It is our creativity, the bohemian balladeer wishes to unravel with his work, his trademark non-sequiturs, the me and you inherent in us all.
This he does bravely and originally, mining soil rich in feeling, finery and frankness few writers, dramatic or not, have or will ever have the chance to dominate and direct so clearly.
All is well, it seems, on Burbank Boulevard, as the fourth installment of Upstairs at the Group Rep is tight, together and teeming with talent.
The wonderfully unique and substantive choice of staging a play by Pinter also proves that this theatre company, under the experienced and nurturing wings of co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield, has solidified its place among theatre ensembles in Los Angeles as a heavyweight contender, not merely a second-rate community theatre.
The series Upstairs is a novel, winning and groundbreaking idea and approach which this critic hopes will continue with more bold and challenging fare and burning acting and directorial fire.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Saturdays at 2 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m.
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