Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 1998
I don't know how many of you are even aware of the existence of the Miniature Theatre of Chester. Chester, MA, is one of those you-can't-get-there-from- here places. And what the heck, you may be asking, is a "miniature theatre"? Well, it is exactly what Gordon Hebler et al have at the Manic Stage on Main Street in North Adams, and they are taking the cue from their colleagues to the southeast and learning that small shows work best in a small space.
The Miniature Theatre of Chester calls itself that because its performance space is only large enough to stage shows with three actors or less. They have had many successful seasons now presenting one-actor shows and dialogues. The Manic Stage opened its first season with a fine production of the two actor show "The Gin Game"; then ventured into six character farce with "What The Butler Saw", which was less of a success. Now they are back where they belong, presenting two young local actors, Christopher J. Beaulieu and William Stillman, in a fascinating evening of two actor plays by Harold Pinter.
Gee, a pile of Pinter, two young actors, a tiny space, a new theatre company...sounds like a dangerous mixture, doesn't it? Why go? Because its good. Because Beaulieu and Stillman work well together and with Pinter. Because the Manic Stage is taking a chance on young talent and an adventurous first season that doesn't "play it safe" with proven crowd pleasers.
The evening opens with three of Pinter's mid '60's "Revue Sketches" - "The Interview", "Trouble in the Works", and "The Applicant". Following an intermission, his longer and better known 1957 opus "The Dumb Waiter" is presented. It is great fun to watch Beaulieu transform himself chameleon- like into four different characters over the course the four plays. Stillman's character swaps are more subtle, except when he strips to his boxer shorts and dons a dress right on stage for the last of the "Revue Sketches".
No directing credit is given for the "Revue Sketches" although I presume that Beaulieu and Stillman collaborated on them. It is a joy to see two performers so comfortable with themselves and their material. The two of them romp through the Vaudevillian style sketches, which Pinter originally wrote as radio plays, with great verve.
Lindsay Pontius has made some riveting directing choices in "The Dumb Waiter", which are beautifully complimented by the black-on-black set that plumbs the depths of the long, narrow stage at the Manic. All four shows use the entire theatre space, breaking the traditional fourth wall between actors and audience. This works well except at the very end of "The Dumb Waiter" when Pontius has Stillman make his climactic entrance from behind most of the audience.
But I can hear some of you still squirming in your seats saying "Pinter???" The first word that comes to most people's mind when you say Pinter is "pause". The famous Pinter Pause - the stage direction most dreaded by actors and audience alike. What does he MEAN by all those pauses? They are unnerving. Well, I can assure you that, while those pauses are there, Beaulieu, Stillman and Pontius have made them an integral part of character and plot so that they blend seamlessly. You need not fear an evening of endless pauses because what you will get is an evening of fascinating theatre. Whether or not that is what Pinter MEANT...
"The Dumb Waiter" and "Revue Sketches" run through August 30 at Manic Stage at Zoies Restaurant, 55 Main Street, North Adams. Call 662-2828 for information and reservations. Zoies offers a dinner and theatre package, or you can just come by for the show.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1998