After what feels like a long hiatus, the Found Theatre is back in business, offering a very fitting and exciting Harold Pinter play called The Lover, through May 27. A husband and wife– impressively played by Craig Johnson and Gaelyn Wilkie– traverse what turns out to be a very, very fine line between convention and absurdity within their marriage.
The action takes place in the cozily furnished living room and bedroom of the couple’s suburban London house in the early 1960s (the play was first staged in 1963), from where husband Richard (Johnson) commutes to his finance job in the city. His character seems perfectly reflected in the song “A Well Respected Man” by The Kinks, which is played at the opening while Richard gets ready for work.
However, while wife Sarah tends to their home, it soon emerges over a pre-dinner drink and cigarette (this is the early Sixties after all) that most afternoons she entertains a lover, which she and Richard openly discuss (!). Richard soon shares that he is not jealous and in fact sees a prostitute in the city (!).
The play continues on that premise, taking unexpected turns both comic and suspenseful. Once we think we see what is going on between the couple, their relationship shifts and they even seem to perplex one another at times. Through their dialogue and action, Pinter pits the conventions of marriage– loyalty, stability, trust, fidelity, love– against the frankly raw demands of sexual desire.
Thoughtfully directed by Allen Sewell, the two main actors do a brilliant job inhabiting their characters, especially on the intimate stage of the Found Theatre. Wilkie artfully conveys her character’s shifting emotions through body language and subtle facial expressions. Johnson gets most of Pinter’s sharply written, often complex lines and delivers them crisply.
The Lover runs a brisk 70 minutes, enough for revelations between the couple to emerge and reemerge differently a few times. The play is entertaining, not just for Pinter’s remarkable portrait of a marriage and incisive writing, but also the meta-theatrical way each character reacts to the other’s role. All couples will certainly have much to talk about afterward.
The Lover continues at the Found Theatre, 599 Long Beach Blvd., through May 27, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $15. For reservations and information, call (562) 433-3363 or visit foundtheatre.org.