Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Unit 102 - Old Times

I kind of snuck into this at the last minute (without reservations even).  I hadn't even realized that Unit 102 was doing a play until I saw the listing in Now.  There is a bit of an interesting story here in that their main space was sold out from under them and they had to scramble to find a new place at 101 Niagara.  (It is fairly difficult to find, especially as several of the Niagara street signs themselves have been torn down.  Once inside, it is a veritable warren of small studio spaces and artist spaces.  I know of several places like this hanging on in Chicago's Wicker Park, but it is kind of neat running across this in contemporary Toronto.  It does kind of bring me back to my previous stint here in the early 90s.)

The space is really more a rehearsal space than a full blown theatre, which means that there isn't much room for the audience.  There are three rows of chairs with maximum seating around 30.  This makes for very intimate theatre.  (Also, it may mean there will be a run on tickets towards the end of the run, though Tuesdays and Wednesdays have good availability.)  I personally would recommend sitting in the front row, but the second row is fine.  It is true that they smoke a lot of herbal cigarettes throughout the show.  If this bothers you a little, then try the second row.  If it is going to bother you a lot, then you probably should pass.

This is a complex and frankly baffling play.  It's actually my second time through (I saw it in 2011 in Chicago), and I still wouldn't say I really understand what happened.  The different versions of reality are massively in conflict with each other.  To some degree, it is like Albee's The Play About the Baby, though if the final "story" that is told is "true" (which is my usual take on the play), then why would this dialogue be performed in this way?  Why would the events be discussed the way they are?  Alternatively, if it is all in one person's head (another intriguing possibility that I hadn't considered, which is raised here in Slotkin's review), then there are an awful lot of mental gymnastics to explain away.

I think Slotkin's review and this review are fair and balanced.  The accents do slip a bit.  Deeley is a bit too drunk and too shouty.  The Chicago production was a bit more restrained and it worked better in some ways, though the mysterious Anna may be a bit better here (maybe just because I was so close that I could really see all her reactions).  What is quite interesting (to me) is that I think the Chicago crew was slightly older than this set of actors, and that feels more right to me.  (Pinter does say that they are all pushing 40,* though I would guess most of these actors are only pushing 30.)  Nonetheless, it is a bit strange to me that Pinter says most of the past events were 15 years ago, whereas I tend to think of deep nostalgia surrounding events of 20 or even 25 years ago.  Another thing that seems a bit odd is that Pinter certainly suggests that the past (of 15 years ago) was London in the Swinging 60s, but Deeley and Anna spend a lot of time singing songs from the 1930s and 1940s (particularly Gershwin tunes).  While there was a fair bit of carry over (Frank Sinatra and even Bing Crosby would have kept these songs in circulation), it is still a bit strange that they would be singing songs of their parents' generation.  This led me to search up the movie (Odd Man Out) that is referenced throughout, and it was released in 1947!  So that basically puts them living in the early 1960s and remembering the 1940s, though the stage directions request that the set use "modern furniture," which only further undermines any essential truth or grounding of the play.

I would encourage people to see this play, particularly if they are interested in power/persuasion, shifting alliances inherent in small groups, in the way memory works (and how two or more people with a shared past may not remember things at all in the same way) and for plays that challenge the viewer.  I would not recommend the play to theatre goers who prefer neat and tidy endings.**  I'm certainly glad that Unit 102 is taking on challenging plays, and I'll see what they are up to next wherever they land.

* Oh, interesting.  The line is that Anna is "about 40," not pushing 40, which I'm quite sure I heard. (Or am I?  Memory is such a treacherous thing...)  The text of the play then says these events were 20 years ago, but I'm quite sure they changed it to 15.  In this case, I am pretty confident, since it was a bit jarring and I noted it down as soon as I got home.  I would agree with Pinter that 20 year old memories are in some ways more disturbing that 15 year memories, since anything that you still recall from 20 years ago is both part of your core and yet can be maddening elusive.  Some of the work I am doing (when I write at all) is about 20 or even 25 years ago, and I have to rely on newspaper articles and research to check if my memory is accurate.  Fortunately, I kept fairly detailed journals from that time, and I definitely don't remember many of the events that I recorded.  That in itself would be an interesting idea to explore (not that Beckett didn't basically cover this in a way already in Krapp's Last Tape).

** One such person is the Now reviewer.  I'm not even going to dignify this ridiculous review with a link.

While I will write about it in a separate post, Edward Albee has just passed away.  I find he and Pinter share an affinity for writing challenging plays where power between the characters shifts in unpredictable ways and the audience really never knows quite what happened.  This sort of play only appeals to a limited audience, and thus we probably will not see many playwrights like Pinter and Albee again. 

No comments:

Post a Comment