Bridge Rep's "The Lover": Curtain Raiser Gives Pause

Harold Pinter’s short play “The Lover”, written some fifty years ago, has often been presented as a curtain raiser in tandem with another brief play, so it’s entirely appropriate that it is being presented as the premiere production of a brand new theatrical entity, Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston, as the “curtain raiser” for this promising company, now at the Calderwood Pavilion. In the space of just under an hour, including many instances of that famous Pinter “pausality”, the author offers one of his pithiest commentaries on such issues as love, communication (or lack thereof), intimacy and connection. This makes the play doubly apt, as the company’s stated mission encompasses connection, not just performing a story but causing our “hearts to pound, tears to fall, breath to catch”. Based on this initial outing, this will be a bridge worth taking again and again.

Bridge Rep’s Founding Artistic Associates further describe themselves as part of an actor-driven aesthetic, as demonstrated by the fact that three of its founders are the actors on stage in “The Lover”: Joe Short (as Richard), McCaela Donovan (as Sarah), and Juan C. Rodriguez (as John). Its other founders are Esme Allen, M.J. Halberstadt and Producer Olivia D’Ambrosio. Their aims also include being alive, real and accessible, and this early Pinter work allows them to be all of these goals and more. On a simple but versatile unit set with striking lighting (both Scenic and Lighting Design are by Luke Sutherland), with eerily effective Sound Design by Ed Young, we’re treated to a painfully funny (but ultimately just painful) journey in the lives of Richard and Sarah and John (the milkman, who might be suspect, given the play’s title). As tightly directed by Shana Gozansky, (including some Stage Combat by Angie Jepson), it’s a wild ride. It’s difficult to convey what to expect without prematurely divulging a few “reveals”; Sarah and Richard are a rural couple whose ten-year marriage has become rote and remote, passionless and pointless. What happens is best left for audience members to discover for themselves, but suffice it to say that they stray into territory that wouldn’t be at all unfamiliar to Albee’s George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”.

All three actors are perfect embodiments of vintage Pinter people, at ease with those challenging pauses, an attractive trio fine-tuned by Gozansky. Rodriguez is hilariously horny, Donovan can be tuned out or turned on at a moment’s notice, and Short, in the most demanding and multi-layered role, handles the humor and the horror (of what can happen when you don’t abide by the rules of the game) with equal dabs of charm and insincerity. They, along with Gozansky, have set a very high bar with this initial effort. It’s a tantalizing, even sublime beginning that portends great things for an exciting future. By all means, do yourself a favor and cross this bridge with your spouse and your lover. You’ll all be glad you did.

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