Spine: Love and Menace in ‘The Lover’ and ‘The Collection’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company

Early Pinter is marked by menace. The RoomThe Birthday Party, and The Homecoming leave a chill in the air, and in the audience’s agitated brain. We are disturbed as much by what we don’t know as by what we can extrapolate from cryptic innuendo.

Patrick Ball and Jack Koenig in The Collection. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.

The Lover and The Collection, two early Pinter one-acts now playing at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, have but a hint of that “oh so disturbing menace,” although, as The Collection makes clear, “the what we don’t know” still has the power to haunt.

It seems people want to be certain, about their feelings, about their business dealings, about their real politic–imagined and fake. So it’s good that, on occasion, a playwright comes along, a Nobel Prize winning Pinter, to remind us of just how mysterious, and unknowable, life, love, and lust are.

For in Pinter, nothing ever is what it seems, and no amount of Big Data will banish the certainty of that uncertainty.

Lisa Dwan and Patrick Kennedy in The Lover. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.

Director Michael Kahn keeps the evening light by early Pinter standards, downplaying the frightening implications of unwelcome visitors. The Collection, in particular, seemed almost casual, when it could have been quite traumatizing.

In The Lover (1962), a middle-aged, middle-class couple find themselves role-playing an open-marriage, years before such arrangements were considered vogue.

Funny and elegant, The Lover gives us “a lover” that is more make-believe than nitty-gritty, as if a real lover would be putting a little too much meat on the bone in this 1960’s bourgeois world.

It’s almost as if only the dim-witted take a lover in this world; the healthy ones create a lover out of the other.

Patrick Kennedy and Lisa Dwan play Pinter’s husband and housewife, but no amount of boredom and repetition will ever dim their spirits, and no amount of jealousy either, if one can be jealous of one’s own alter ego.

The Collection (1961) starts late at night with a phone call. A mysterious stranger calls at 4 a.m. An older gentleman, James (Patrick Kennedy), answers and the caller demands to speak to another of the home’s residents, Harry (Jack Koeing). The caller won’t leave his name, however; nor will he supply a reason why the 4 a.m. call.

We soon meet Harry, a fashion designer; he is seemingly kept by James in some kind of loose servant-lover/kept-man capacity.

We soon meet Bill, the caller (Patrick Ball), and his wife, Stella (Lisa Dwan). Stella, it turns out, is a rival fashion designer who may, or may not, have had some kind of liaison with Harry at a recent fashion design conference.

Fact, fiction, and fake swirl together wonderfully hypnotically. In that sense, Pinter proves a prognosticator: this world couldn’t be more like our world today, so good luck figuring it out.

Finally, there was a “collection” in The Collection. It’s on stage, near the phone, behind glass: it’s a collection of ornate vases, I believe. As far as I could tell, however, that collection of expensive eye-candy was nothing more than window dressing, symbolic at best.

I have yet to figure out why the play is called The Collection.

The Lover–well, that’s more obvious–maybe.

Running Time: Two hours and five minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Lover and The Collection play through October 29 at Shakespeare Theatre Company, performing at Lansburg Theatre – 450 7th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.


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Review: ‘The Lover’ and ‘The Collection’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company


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