Under the Surface

Posted Nov. 18, 2009, at 4:48 p.m.

In a Harold Pinter play, the things that lie beneath the surface are what actually are in the spotlight. A sentence of dialogue may mean one thing on the page, but another entirely when spoken onstage.

That’s the challenge in performing one of the late Nobel laureate’s plays. It’s a challenge that Irene Dennis welcomes as she directs Ten Bucks Theatre’s production of two Pinter one-act plays, “The Lover” and “The Collection.” Both plays will be performed this weekend and next, at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 and 21 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 22, as well as 7 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5 and 2 p.m. Dec. 6, all at the Brewer Middle School Auditorium.

Written in the early 1960s, both “The Lover” and “The Collection” deal with modern marriage, the breakdown of communication and sexual politics — instead of melodrama, though, it’s all misdirection and loaded statements. When the unspoken is as important as the spoken, both director and actors must do a lot of thinking before they speak.

“Pinter’s plays are fascinating to work on, because the dialogue is so minimalistic. The characters often talk about mundane things, but their words are only the tip of the iceberg of meaning,” said Dennis, who appeared as Truvy the beauty shop owner last fall in Penobscot Theatre’s production of “Steel Magnolias.” “There’s incredible depth of feeling and complexity of relationships underneath. I love working on this kind of script, where it’s all about discovering who the characters are, what makes them tick, what their relationships are like.”

While the tension is high in both productions, there’s a great deal of humor present as well. Ten Bucks Theatre veteran Bernard Hope takes on eight different personas as he plays the shape-shifting husband in “The Lover,” spouse to the sexually liberated Sarah, played by Marty Kelly. Hope again plays a husband in “The Collection,” along with Kelly as the adulterous wife Stella. Padraic Harrison and John Greenman round out both casts.

Dennis has relished the chance to do some serious character work. With each performance, the characters shift in identity and the dialogue changes meaning.

“Because the meaning is under the surface, and not right there on the page, it’s a treasure hunt for both the director and the actors to discover what’s actually going on, and how the dynamics change between characters as the play progresses,” she explained.

Ten Bucks Theatre will perform two shows next year — another Monty Python show in April, and the welcome return of its Shakespeare on the River next summer. The fall, however, is traditionally reserved for more contemporary, edgier stuff. “The Lover” and “The Collection” are the first Pinter plays to be performed in east-ern Maine in more than seven years.

“It’s part of Ten Bucks’ mission to offer dynamic theatre to the greater Bangor-Brewer area,” she said. “And yes, I think there’s an audience out there that’s hungry for this type of theatre. Last year, as part of our evening of one-acts, an early David Mamet play called ‘The Duck Variations’ turned out to be a real crowd-pleaser.”

Tickets for the Harold Pinter one-act plays “The Lover” and “The Collection” are $10, $5 for students, and are available at the door at the Brewer Middle School Auditorium. For more information, visit www.tenbuckstheatre.com.

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