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Theater review: White Orchard Theater Offers Arresting ‘Caretaker’

The Caretaker 4In 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.

The Caretaker 1Kraut, 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.

The Caretaker 2Chattam (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.

The Caretaker 3As 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.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Backstage and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).

Comments

  1. Thank you Evans for your thoughtful observations!

  2. Oh dang. I had very much hoped to see this piece – but we’re out of town until the 16th. Congratulations, White Orchard Theater.