Aristotle insisted that a tragedy should evoke “pity and fear.” At its best, drama may stir a sense of humanity in those who bear witness. Something’s been lost, then, in Attic Rep’s dyspeptic staging of Harold Pinter’s One For The Road, directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo. For a violent play with such tragic themes, the production is all blood and no pulse, all show and no sympathy.
The San Antonio group works hard to make it fly. These days, however, One For The Road demands some context (one of those ubiquitous director’s notes, perhaps?) that doesn’t come with the package.
Pinter penned this one with reactionary heat in 1984 to vent his disgust for the West’s involvement with totalitarian states. The one-act play, performed on a minimalist stage, is set in such a regime. The audience receives rapid glimpses into the interrogation of a very frightened, very trapped family led by a smug man in a suit known only as Nicholas (Rick Frederick).
Pinter does not provide back-stories for the victimized husband, wife, and son (Aaron Eckman, Susanna Morrow, and Elias Hansen, respectively). Instead we see three miserable shells and the cruel stranger that hollowed them out.
The staging works, and the lighting is effective. A child’s face lit only by the screen of an open laptop is particularly haunting. Moments of sluggish pacing aside, the acting is committed, if occasionally overwrought, and the abrupt on/off light cues do a nice job of snatching the audience’s attention. Visually it’s horrifying, but grabbing our emotions is a trickier job.
In 2008, five years into an American-led foreign invasion fraught with fear, prejudice, and misunderstanding, One For The Road might have helped bring some timely questions into public discussion. Pinter’s fast, steely script doesn’t make time to ask these questions overtly, and so contemporary performers must be diligent and inventive in finding fresh psychology and subtext. Otherwise Pinter’s scenes are reduced to agitprop dabblings in shock and sadism.
Ideally, Attic Rep would have rooted out and prepared a companion one-act to form a double feature. This would have filled out the evening (at the thirty-minute mark, Saturday’s Fringe audience was just getting settled) and provided a much-needed opportunity to address themes of faith, punishment, and paranoia. It’s a noble endeavor to elicit pity and fear from Pinter’s abrupt, angry play. But if the theater strives for a healthy society, it must do more than show us blood – it must help us take a pulse.
- Running time: 30 minutes
- Tickets: One for the Road has closed.