"I'm obliged to you for letting me have a bit of rest for a few minutes," one character says to another at the top of this play. Those few minutes turn out to be weeks—played out in a life-size gut-wrenching game of Rock, Paper, Scissors—in playwright Harold Pinter's classic, as the balance of power shifts among its three characters.
But even before the play unfolds, the first thing we notice here is the sturdy, realistic, evocative set (designer Ben Ainlay, painter Alex Enberg). The peeling plaster, the falling cornices, the piles of shabby items—one man's discards are another man's treasures—establish the physical and spiritual temperature of the scene. Next we notice the jazz score; nothing simple and catchy, instead the complexities and inexplicable moodiness of Monk and Parker.
Rapidly taking our minds off the external and into the disturbing world of the three men are the actors' many skills. Robert Mandan plays Davies, the presumably homeless elderly Londoner who is invited into the run-down home of two brothers, Aston and Mick. Mandan inhabits him fully, richly, flawlessly. Seemingly without front teeth yet missing not a nuance of the language Pinter has carefully used to create careless banter, Mandan gives us neither a loveable old coot nor a threatening monster. Instead there's something only vaguely scheming, vaguely dangerous about the character. Jaxon Duff Gwillim is Aston, the seemingly gentle brother; Gwillim plays him with an unhealthy stoop and shuffle that sometimes reflects Aston's inability to take action and sometimes masks an unrelenting will. Steve Spiro is Mick, the seemingly violent brother, burning with conflicting needs to hurt and help. Accents are impeccable.
As is best about Pinter, nothing is explicated. Director Matt Gottlieb creates a deeply disturbed yet perfectly usual world, digs up just enough humor, sets his actors on three neatly bisecting roads, and releases them to the audience, showing us neither too little nor too much. It's up to us to take what we want from the evening. It's a good bet the audience walks away with an armload.
"The Caretaker," presented by Bob's Your Uncle Productions, in association with Applearts Productions at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 12-Mar. 20. $20. (323) 852-9111.