In theater, like life, you get out what you put in. Those involved with White Orchard Theater have obviously put plenty of effort into their arresting take on The Caretaker.
The troupe’s Nashville debut under the thoughtful direction of founder Irina Sundukova is an auspicious one because actors Jonah Kraut, David Chattam and Pat Reilly take what’s in Harold Pinter’s 1960 classic and make it their own.
In keeping with the play’s nature the setting in “O” Gallery’s intimate and well-appointed space is minimal – the main pieces are two beds, a radio and a chair. Uncovered lights drop from the ceiling, offering an appropriately unvarnished illumination.
The story centers on the volatile relationship between brothers Ashton (Chattam) and Mick (Kraut) and the tramp Davies (Reilly). Ashton brings Davies home after Davies is involved in an altercation; the London building where his room is located is owned by Mick. Within that room, a struggle for power ensues that will reveal truth, lies, fantasy and even madness. In this version, we’re not quite sure of the year; that’s a good choice because this type of human conflict is essentially timeless.
Kraut, who attended the New England Conservatory of Music, has appeared before the cameras and participated in staged readings, but this is his first acting appearance in a full pro theater production. It’s certainly a strong start – he has poise and presence that few first-timers have, and an intensity that’s spot-on for the domineering young man he portrays. (He also displays his musicianship with a character-and-moment enhancing tickling of the ivories.) His Mick doesn’t speak with a British accent, but that’s in keeping with the refreshing ambiguity of Sundukova’s vision for the play – perhaps he was reared in Canada while his brother grew up in the United Kingdom, so he wouldn’t speak with a British accent. Such minor points are left to our imagination, and that’s fine, since the struggle between the three is ultimately the far greater concern.
Chattam (recently seen in Street Theater Company’s The Desperate Hours) has a slight, clipped English delivery and as a black man he might even be Mick’s half-brother – once again, that doesn’t really matter unless one is concerned with the full realistic back-story of these characters which Pinter had the wisdom to leave out. I note it because when Davies rails against “the Blacks, Greeks, and Poles” with a black man standing right there the dramatic impact is like a slap to the face. Chattam deftly reveals not only his character’s ever-futile hopes but bits of his harrowing past and the pain it still causes him.
As Davies, complete with a strong air of Cockney to his speech, Reilly delivers an excellent performance. He makes us loathe his character’s vain and manipulative behavior; he also makes our hearts break when he reveals the pitiful creature beneath Davies’ arrogant mask. The portrayal is so complete that you almost expect to meet that man after the show; instead, of course, there’s the rather gifted actor whose fascinating background includes work as a broadcaster and private investigator. Among other things it takes thorough preparation to succeed in those professions, and it’s obvious that Reilly – as well as his castmates – did so for this challenging acting assignment.
So, welcome to Nashville, White Orchard Theater. If The Caretaker is an indication of what’s to come Sundukova and her colleagues will be a valuable addition to our city’s cultural life.
The Caretaker continues through Saturday (Nov. 10) at the “O” Gallery at Marathon Village (1305 Clinton St., Ste. 120). Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 (with a student discount price of $10). For tickets call (305) 331-1233 or buy them online by clicking here.
*Photos by Stephanie McKee courtesy White Orchard Theater.