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Forty years on, Harold Pinter's creepy, cryptic, elliptical play about a couple of odd brothers who let a homeless man stay two weeks in the attic of their rundown London house still has its hypnotic and mystifying power. The directionless conversations (more often really monologues or nonresponsive dialogues) punctuated by silences, the disconnected fragments of exposition, the unexplained relationships with their underlying sense of menace, the rambling reiterations of plans and schemes that go nowhere, the barely fathomable motivations—all finally create an unforgettable bleak picture of human aimlessness and alienation.

This third offering in Renaissance Theatre's series of modern classic revivals from mid-century outstandingly features Ron Choularton in a seething, nattering, repellant, fascinating performance as Davies, the filthy old tramp who nonetheless proves a dainty man to please. The two quietly antagonistic brothers—Bryan Bevell as Aston and Jeffrey Jones as Mick—are played, under Rosina Reynold's direction, with a good sense of unspoken grievances and seesawing power balances. It's a tale as old as Cain and Abel, and this strain of the perennial story weaves its influential way as well through Pinter's play into Sam Shepard's True West and, most recently, Martin McDonagh's Lonesome West, as the archetypal brothers wage their eternally resentful back-and-forth battle of shifting dominance and submission, using a third party as a cat's-paw between them. (For Cain and Abel the third party was God.)

Bevell's Aston, strangely fastidious amid the squalor, is well and carefully constructed as a character by means of small mechanical movements, a fussy uninflected voice in a London accent, and a spooky, expressionless lack of apparent affect—Aston relates how shock therapy has cured his violent impulses. Bevell is, however, not very physically imposing, and though this adds a certain mysteriousness to Aston's ability to check the excitable bullying of thuggish, talkative brother Mick, it also subtracts some potential edge from the relationship.

Jeanne Reith's costume design finds its moment of zenith when the bum Davies disrobes (or rather, disrags) to reveal the absolutely appalling state of his underwear—costume and character thus becoming truly one. Karin Filijan's lighting and the sound design of Reynolds and Michael Shapiro do their jobs well. And Marty Burnett's squalid, junk-crammed attic setting is perfectly realized.

"The Caretaker," presented by Renaissance Theatre Company at 6th @ Penn Theater, 3704 6th Ave., Hillcrest. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Mar. 16-Apr. 14. $15-20. (619) 688-9210.

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