No Man’s Land – (theatre)

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No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter was part of a two-show bill, both shows starring the wildly talented cast of Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup, and Shuler Hensley. The other show was Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I, fortunately and unfortunately, only got to see Land while visiting New York for the first time.

Let me start this by saying that the Cort Theatre, built in 1912, was a stunning venue. Historical, yet well preserved, this setting was a testament to the class and respect that theatre once had. There was a surge of adrenaline shooting through me as the wintery scrim, shadowed with a tree-branch silhouette and leaves lifted to reveal the two biggest names on the bill. It was hard to suppress the fan boy inside, trying to fully grasp that I was in the same room with them.

Once the play started, I fell completely into the story…well, as much as one can. I watched McKellen dance about the stage as the eager, yet harmless Spooner, seeking an opportunity with the rigid and seemingly unravelling Hirst (played by Stewart). I watched the first act, completely confused as to what was going on. Was I tired from my travels? Was I so star-struck that I couldn’t concentrate? Was I paranoid that I, sitting in the middle of the row, would need to go to the bathroom and create such disruption that I would get yelled at by Stewart and McKellen for ruining the show? My friend was quick to inform me, a Pinter virgin, that the script was intentionally written to be ambiguous. Whew! What a relief! I could relax a little and just take in the show as a whole.

One thing I can say with some confidence is that I believe that the show is about “trust”, “friendship”, and “loyalty” especially as it relates to aging. Hirst (Stewart) is the owner of a large home, perhaps out in the country. He has befriended Spooner (McKellen), though it is unclear where and when this friendship began. The two actors create such polar opposite characters through refined movements and delivery, that there is a natural draw to watch (despite my initial confusion). It was almost like watching a professional tennis match. It is clear that Spooner is desperate for something that Hirst can offer, whether it be his friendship or a place to stay, as it is established that Spooner is not well off. Enter Foster (Crudup) and Briggs (Hensley). Their arrival marks an additional (and immediate) feeling of unease. These young men serve as caretakers / bodyguards for the alcoholic and possibly ailing Hirst. I suspected at several moments that they may have appointed themselves in those positions, but it is hard to say with Pinter’s style. The play continues on with our two henchmen being just as much a balance for each other as McKellen and Stewart; Crudup playing a somewhat cocky young punk and Hensley playing an almost golem-like protector.

The actors glided through the somewhat nightmarish mood of the script without fail, hitting the moments of humor, sadness, and tension that were called for. I went to experience McKellen in person, but was given a great theatre experience by four capable actors.

I do not think the script lends itself to everyone, as the lack of clarity at the end may leave some unsatisfied. However, I found this a great opportunity to really study four styles of acting and to open my brain to piecing together the less obvious.

After the show, I was also treated to seeing each of the actors, who graciously stopped to give autographs before climbing into their limos (except for Hensley, who jaunted merrily off down the sidewalk disappearing into the New York Night). Hensley’s signing was slightly overshadowed by Ian McKellen emerging from the stage door, but he kindly moved out of the way around the crowd and barriers. He moved to the back of the crowd and continued signing autographs. He was delightful and funny. He was also the only one I got to actually talk to.

I managed to get everyone’s autograph except Patrick Stewart. While that left me a little disappointed, if I had to miss his or McKellen’s signature, I was glad it was his. I find the man to be a flawless actor and perceive him to be deeply human. So, here is a picture of my favorite actor signing my playbill.

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Thanks to M. Walters for his help with this review.

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