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Theater review: 'No Man's Land' at Odyssey Theatre

November 5, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Img_2153.300 Harold Pinter named the four characters in “No Man’s Land” after real-life cricket players, and in Michael Peretzian’s assured revival, now at the Odyssey Theatre, the game is in full swing. In the play, this quartet haunts a Persian-carpeted study, but their moves are as competitive as anything on the green fields of Lord’s Cricket Ground.
After a chance meeting in a pub, down-and-out poet Spooner (the wonderfully seedy Alan Mandell) has been invited back to the well-appointed townhouse of Hirst (Lawrence Pressman). The successful but aging man of letters lives under the bizarre care of two yobs, Briggs and Foster (Jamie Donovan and John Sloan), who may or may not be lovers. Spooner wheedles his way into Hirst’s confidences, in hopes of regular hot meals and a daily quotient of alcohol. Did they once know each other at Oxford, or is Hirst just humoring him?

A kind of “Twilight Zone” meets “Masterpiece Theatre,” this 1974 British status game may seem rather remote in contemporary Los Angeles, but it’s no different than what’s probably happening in the corridors of William Morris Endeavor. Pinter is as much anthropologist as poet, delighting in the absurdities of patrician club chat and the braggadocio of cocky lads. Yet alongside the casual barbs and dirty jokes hovers an aura of strangeness that evokes the black hole of mortality. On Tom Buderwitz’s airless set, death seems to be just on the other side of the door.

Nearly all the elements come together in this production, from Jeremy Pivnick’s sallow lighting to Spooner’s threadbare suit with grotty socks and sandals, courtesy of Audrey Eisner. Mandell relishes Pinter’s language like the single-malt whisky Spooner greedily imbibes, but watch his eyes dart in animal terror when Briggs gives him a shove. Sloan excels as the sexually ambiguous Foster, an anxious peacock trapped in a pen. Pressman has yet to settle into Hirst — he is still performing the role instead of inhabiting it — but like the rich, bitter liquor that takes the sting out of oblivion, this show likely will improve with age.

– Charlotte Stoudt

“No Man’s Land” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; also 7 p.m. Nov. 8 and Dec. 13. Dark Nov. 26. Ends Dec. 20. $25 and $30. Contact (310) 477-2055 or Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: From left, Lawrence Pressman, Alan Mandell and John Sloan. Credit: Odyssey Theatre.