No Man’s Land – A pleasant drawing room comedy

Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” prepares for Broadway at the Berkeley Rep. It features Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame as Hirst and Ian McKellen as Spooner. McKellen is himself a popular film actor. The production is critic-proof and will be a hot ticket elsewhere as it has been in Berkeley. Although reviews don’t and won’t matter, they have been rapturous. When it gets to New York, in repertory with “Waiting for Godot,” there won’t be a dry seat in the house.

This is a slightly different animal than either of two recent LA productions – The Lost Studio’s American-accented take with Tom Bower and Mitchell Ryan and the 2009 Odyssey version with Lawrence Pressman and Alan Mandell. All have strong tv and film credits and some boast long connections to Pinter. None are household names. Stewart and McKellen’s plummy voices sell the action, such as there is in Pinter, very well. The dissipation in the first act and the one-upmanship in the second are exemplary. When the lead characters actually interact, the performance soars. It’s prosaic in the monologues and bogs down when Foster and/or Briggs show up.

The program notes make much of Pinterian pauses and theatrical negative space. The downside of two marquee names is that an eager audience took in every twitch and tic as a subtle comedic reference and filled in every bit of that negative space with see-we-get-it laughter. Sitcom tapings would kill for this reaction. Pinter isn’t unfunny but if Director Sean Mathias intended menace, it got washed out by the chuckling and the two flat supporting performances.

Follow these links to the Gielgud/Richardson version.

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