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Teen Critics on Harold Pinter

Every season a group of High School students participate in STC’s Teen Critic program. These students attend the productions, participate in workshops and craft critical reviews reflecting their unique perspectives on the performances. Fourteen young critics are participating in this year’s program and below are excerpts from some of their first reviews.

Click here to find out more about the Teen Critic program.

Ester Luna, Freshman
Washington International School

Take an energetic, sensual woman, three witty men, and a compliant cat, put them on Shakespeare Theatre Company’s stage, and the nuanced portrayals of human relationships in Harold Pinter’s The Lover and The Collection come alive through dark humor and intriguing power struggles.

Isabel Echavarria, Junior
Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School

Actress Lisa Dwan, playing Sarah, gave a strong and captivating performance as a Sixties housewife. She gave the character life by approaching each scene with curiosity as to her husband’s intentions and desires while maintaining a strong willed attitude. She was poised and confident, not afraid to show her authority and share her opinions with her husband, indicating that the couple had equal power in the relationship. However, in spite of her confidence, Dwan chooses to reveal Sarah’s vulnerability on multiple occasions, once, while waiting for her lover, and second, when she argues with her husband Richard. This choice to play the role in this way highlights the character’s natural desire and fear of loss of something of importance. Sarah craves and lives for her interactions with her lover.

Actor Patrick Kennedy, playing Richard, creates a mellow but stern character with an easygoing attitude, who develops a dominating attitude later in the play. The transition of the character was made abruptly by Kennedy, and indicates to the audience that Richard is not just a pleasant and lenient husband as he appears at first.

Maggie Klein, Senior
Oakton High School

The Collection feels less surreal but equally ambiguous. Kennedy and Dwan play another young married couple, James and Stella, alongside the affluent Harry (Jack Koenig) and his younger partner Bill (Patrick Ball). The couples are brought together following an alleged rendezvous between Bill and Stella on a business trip in Leeds. As the characters—and audience—try to figure out what happened, the truth becomes less clear and the characters become more complicated. Ball and Koenig each portrayed their characters with believability and dimension, and tactful blocking established the power dynamics between the characters.

Pria Dahiya, Junior
Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School

What struck me most about this production were the actors’ abilities to physically convey power. Patrick Ball, during The Collection, and Lisa Dwan, in The Lover, stand out as exceptional examples of strong physical choices. This is no doubt due to the direction of Michael Kahn. Even if the audience does not have a grasp on what’s going on, Kahn certainly does. I’m sure that much of what I enjoyed about this show came from his keen eye. A play full of this much ambiguity could fall apart under hands less capable than his.

Trevor Ross, Senior

The performances of Dwan and Kennedy are a highlight with them portraying a bickering British couple. Kennedy’s performance is notably a standout. Every word he speaks is a mix of being both a cheery smart aleck and a suppressing interrogator. There are times when the play is a bit “twisted” with one scene involving Sarah’s lover and a drum (yes and actual drum) as well as Richard and Sarah discovering a realization near the end of the play about each other.

Emily Mayo, Sophomore
Walt Whitman High School

Most remarkable in this show is Kahn’s directing. Though no out of left field choices were made in the staging or acting of the production, Pinter’s plays are deceptively difficult to helm, and Kahn does an admirable job bringing every element together to maximize the tension in the room until it feels like a crime of passion is about to be committed at the end of each cliffhanger scene. In The Lover, the audience feels this most strongly in witnessing the husband declare an end to his wife’s affair.  Kahn has coached his actors well in the art of making each silence weighted with tension, and he utilizes distance and tempo in the clipped, angry conversation that follows to build the stress to a breaking point. Kahn brings out both the comedic side and unsettling side of these two plays, and uses them to full effect to create a play that is deeply disturbing but fascinating. It takes a great director and great actors to make the audience feel as if they are peeking into the deeply private lives of individuals where they shouldn’t during a play, and Kahn creates that atmosphere to a level rarely found in even the most high-caliber productions.

Henry Wiebe, Senior
Montgomery Blair High School

The set for The Lovers is a fairly traditional depiction of house in the 50’s or 60’s. The simplicity of the set was very fitting for a play with a very distinct minimalistic style. The Collection required a split stage design, as the setting alternates between the houses of the two couples in the play and a phone booth. The phone booth was located upstage, and it was obscured from vision until it was needed in the show. An eerie spotlight would then reveal only the back of the person who was calling from the booth, creating an intriguing aura of mystery.

Rebecca Kurtz, Sophomore
School Without Walls

In a similar fashion, each production makes use of physical repetition as a tool for conveying the monotonous routine of marriage. Lighting is key in The Lover; over the course of a few days we see Sarah (Lisa Dwan) and Richard (Patrick Kennedy) engaged in the routine actions of the morning greeting, the lover’s arrival, and Richard’s evening musings. Following suit, morning and evening light pour in from each of the windows, highlighting the prominence of routine in the lives of these two unhappy people. The Collection makes use of repeated visits and paralleled interactions with instances in which lights are up on both houses of the divided set, revealing one character’s musings on an issue that is being discussed in the adjoining set. Both approaches to the slow and habitual nature of Pinter’s scripts bring to the surface what is perhaps the root of the commentary: humans are restless, and thus permanence is impossible.

Douglas Griffin, Senior
Wakefield Country Day School

To speak a little longer on the plays themselves, I will venture to state that, although one may bemoan the lack of humor or tragedy or really any of the tropes of traditional drama in these plays, they are at least thought-provoking and, in their particular way, enjoyable. They have enough mystery and tension to hold the viewer’s attention, which is enough to ensure that the plays’ experimental nature does not ruin the night. They leave the viewer feeling very learnèd, if they do not give him boundless amusement. And although they are not particularly diverting, they are exceedingly topical (both asking about the nature of the truth, posing the provocative question that perhaps the truth is just what we believe).

Rachel Wei, Senior
Thomas S Wootton High School

Both plays featured subtle jabs at stereotypes about women, including how “unstable” they are and easily tempted. In both plays, the wife’s infidelity is scrutinized and criticized by the husband. In The Lover, even though Richard also has another partner he is seeing, he is obsessed with finding out more about his wife’s partner and is increasingly unsettled by the fact that his wife prefers another over him. In The Collection, all three men blame Stella for being easily seduced by Bill, instead of focusing on how Bill initiated the encounter. Overall, The Lover and The Collection raised one, main question: Why does the flawed institution of marriage even exist?

Okay, it raised another question too: Is it marriage even worth the effort?

Kelai’ah Wheelan, Senior
Suitland High School

All in all, I recommend this play for all to see. The plays have this magic about them, although you might not understand it completely, you understand the true emotions of the characters. I think this will be a perfect date night play to take a partner and have an interesting discussion.


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