Sometime last spring Karen Miller read in the NY Times that Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were coming to Broadway in productions of Harold Pinter’s *No Man’s Land* and Samuel Beckett’s *Waiting for Godot*. We both started drooling uncontrollably, and I bought us tickets for the Pinter, and tickets for the two of us plus her beloved, Bruce, for the Beckett.
NO MAN’S LAND
Karen and I saw *No Man’s Land* a couple weeks ago. This is the same playwright as *Betrayal*, which we saw in November. The word I used for that show was “dazzling”, and I’m using it again. The writing is so brilliant, and the acting couldn’t have been better. It’s a cliché to say that someone’s writing is like music, but it’s really true in Pinter’s case: not just the rhythm of the language, but the way he varies the length of the lines and the speakers, and of course the Pinter pauses. The high point of the play was a sequence that featured the four actors each saying a short line, all of the same length, punctuated by one of the actors popping the cork on a bottle of wine. It went something like this:
McKellen: blah blah blah
Hensley: blah blah blah
Crudup: blah blah blah
Stewart: blah blah blah
I can’t explain how completely thrilling this was, but I had never seen/heard anything like it! It was astonishing. My mouth was agape.
You know McKellen and Stewart, I’m sure. The other two actors in both plays were Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. I’ve seen both of them in a few other Broadway shows, they’re both very strong, especially Crudup. But it’s the older actors who are the stars of both plays, and they gave a master class in acting both nights. The way I see it, an actor has two major tools in his/her arsenal: the body and the voice. McKellen and Stewart have that enviable balance of power and effortlessness, they were in complete command of everything they did, yet it all felt fresh and organic.
Stewart sported a withering comb-over. He was quite silent in the first act, at one point he had a seizure or tantrum (it was difficult to tell) and threw his glass on the floor. It didn’t break, because the glass was so sturdy and the rug so thick. He staggered about for a moment, and then fell to the floor on all fours. And very slowly, I might even say haltingly, he crawled across the stage and out the door. It went on forever, it was excruciating! In the best way. And for the next ten minutes or so, the other three actors, over and over, stepped near that damn glass on the floor, never stepping on it - - often looking at it and not picking it up. Such a little thing, but it built up the tension big time.
If Pinter is a composer, then McKellen and Stewart are virtuosos with his language. McKellen did most of the talking in the first act, his character was sort of a blowhard. He’s the only actor onstage at the start of the second act, and when the other actors come on it appears that they’re playing different characters. Or maybe not. Stewart, in particular, is completely changed - - he’s charming and affable and talking a mile a minute. Stewart relished the dialogue, was clearly having a good time. And McKellen had a tour de force monologue near the end of the play, really hit the ball out of the park.
PS - - For the other half of this double bill, click here: