Pinter play packs intensity and politics onto small stage

by Liz Ellison | 5/22/07 12:10am

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Harold Pinter's one-act play
by Courtesy of jameswagner.com / The Dartmouth

This term, an idea that began with a "what if" has become a two-night run of "One For the Road" in 105 Dartmouth Hall, directed by Bud Simis '08 and featuring a mostly professional, imported cast. As if all that weren't unusual enough, admission is free.

When theater major Simis saw a production of "One For the Road" on the department's foreign study in London this fall, he knew he wanted to direct the play. When he imagined his dream cast, he thought of former National Theater Institute director David Jaffe, who Simis had studied under. On a whim, Simis contacted him, only to find that Jaffe happened to have a schedule gap just the right size for him to take on the lead role. The rest is history.

"One For the Road" centers on a government official questioning a family of dissidents. We don't find out many details about the oppressive regime in the unnamed country in which the play is set, but that's part of what makes the play so chilling: it's never clear just what kinds of ideologies are at issue here, and we don't know when or where it's all taking place.

Dartmouth students may not be acting in the play, but they're involved in all other aspects of bringing it to life onstage. Those working with Simis include stage manager Missy De Souza '08, set designer Margaret Jacobs '08, lighting designer Brian Fortin '08, and producer Sarah Hughes '07. Also, Thom Pasculli '05, who has been working as a professional actor since he graduated two years ago, is featured in the play as the tortured Victor.

Jaffe, who has enjoyed a long career as a professional actor and teacher and is currently a visiting professor at Wesleyan, is a commanding presence onstage, and not just because his character is responsible for torturing -- and worse -- unknown numbers of people in the service of his country. Pasculli packs agony into every facial twitch, and Lillian Meredith, a Vassar senior and former NTI student, is also compelling as his wife Gila.

I'm not sure how many theatrical productions have been staged in 105 Dartmouth, but this one worked beautifully. Jacobs' set design is elegant and effective, and although Fortin may not have had much to work with in the way of lighting, his design made me completely forget that I was in a classroom.

When Simis saw the play for the first time in London, it was the shock value that initially got his attention. The play is heavy on the violence, with much more brutality alluded to in the characters' dialogue than we see actually happening onstage. But Pinter's violence is hardly gratuitous, and it's grimly effective in bringing home the horror of the play's subject matter. "We talk about torture, human rights, and it didn't affect me as viscerally when I read it in the New York Times as it did when I saw this play," said Simis.

You'll walk away half wishing the play was three times longer, but Pinter's doing something very specific here, and it works. If you couldn't make it last night, you've still got tonight to check out "One For the Road" at 8 p.m. in 105 Dartmouth Hall. Admission is free. Do it.

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