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LA Theater Review

The Lover

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Critic's confession: Despite the best intentions to avoid pre-show skepticism, I attended this assignment weighted with preconceptions. Production runs with performances in two different languages aren't uncommon; but, for God's sake, this is Harold Pinter. It's difficult enough in the British playwright's mother tongue, so how would this company navigate the nuances -- in this absurdist examination of a couple's unorthodox bonds -- while mounting repertory performances in English and Armenian? Having witnessed the English version, I am a blushing monolinguist who has been reminded yet again to never judge a book by its cover.

Director Gabrielle O'Sullivan and a top-notch cast jump into Pinter's work, originally scripted for a 1963 U.K. television broadcast, with gusto. O'Sullivan's use of musical recordings -- written and performed by composer Noël Coward -- to set a perky pre-show mood and cover scene changes is a cunningly misleading touch. Hats off to Aramazd Stepanian and Nora Armani, whose performances as Richard and Sarah, respectively, capture perfectly the inherent quirkiness and dark undertones of the script. Their marriage seems one of reasoned convenience. She has an ongoing love affair, with frequent trysts at their home. He is the epitome of graceful accommodation, happy to reclaim her and their abode at the end of the day.

Of course, a cheery portrait is that much more intriguing when things go awry. Despite an ineffective red herring involving the milkman, the true identity of Sarah's lover is revealed, and it's deliciously apparent this coupling is far more twisted than we first suspected. With multiple levels of jealous role-playing, Stepanian and Armani demonstrate their finely honed talents for delivering Pinter's knifelike stream of innuendos and double-entendres.

What emerges is an often cruel struggle for control. Here Pinter's language is precise and purposeful. Rather than rushing things, O'Sullivan and her actors skillfully wring the most out of each moment. Design elements, including swags of once lush velvet, bespeak a shabby middle-class gentility. What grips one's attention, however, is a well-crafted production emphasizing a perversely symbiotic relationship, the conclusion of which is damningly circuitous.

Presented by and at the Luna Playhouse,

3706 San Fernando Rd., Glendale.

Sun.-Wed. 8 p.m. (Performances in Armenian: Thu. 7 & 9 p.m. Aug. 9-16.) Jul. 29-Aug. 16.

(818) 500-7200. www.itsmyseat.com.

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