"Harold Pinter seems to me the only man working in the theater today who writes existential plays existentially," drama critic Walter Kerr wrote in 1967. Every line and gesture of The Caretaker is striking proof of Pinter's intricate crafting.
The American Repertory Theatre's production of The Caretaker, under the direction of David Wheeler, captures the play's complexities with terrifying power, its every aspect brilliantly reflecting the play's dark philosophy.
Davies, a vagrant, rather self-righteous old man, is taken in by a mentally impaired man, Aston, and his sly and hostile older brother, Mick. The men continually talk at one another but never connect because they are unable to understand themselves. Each has a dream which he cannot act upon. The characters' constant repetition of their stories and of each other's words in absurdly circular dialogue provides both the play's humor and its tragic core.
The huge expanse of Derek McLane's set perfectly captures the frightening emptiness of the men's lives, and John Ambrosone's cold and mysterious lighting brings out the fear and uncertainly of each character's feelings about himself and the others.
Wheeler orchestrates the entire production with chilling precision. The weight of each moment hangs over the audience with a force so excrutiating that we cannot help but feel the stifling air under which the characters are plodding.
His ensemble is also extremely strong. Jeremy Geidt is wonderful as the intolerable old buffoon Davies. His characterization is completely convincing and deliciously grating.
Jack Willis is heart-wrenching as the younger brother, Aston, who tells the story of the doctors who "put the pincers" on his skull so that he couldn't...get...[his] thoughts...together."
And Mark Ziesler is frightening as Mick, the man who alternates between mentally torturing his subject and revealing his innermost dreams to him.
The ART's production of The Caretaker is a powerful realization of Pinter's dark vision. Strong performance, striking set design and straightforward direction bring out all the nuances of this contemporary classic.