“No Man’s Land” Play Review, starring Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen
Can you imagine seeing Captain Picard, Magneto, and Dr. Manhattan all in one spot? If you live in New York City, you can make that dream a reality by seeing either of the plays at “Two Plays in Rep” at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. Get ready for a departure from the typical review, as we delve into a live stage play for the first time on Nerd News Today, and why not since it contains an A-list of nerdom stars!
You already know Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen from their respective roles in “X-Men”, “Lord of The Rings”, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, and plenty of other dramatic roles, and hopefully you are familiar with their Shakespearean acting backgrounds as well. When this pair joins forces with Billy Crudup (from “The Watchmen”) and and Shuler Hensley (international star of stage and screen), you have a tour de force of acting prowess all on one stage, and doing the modern classics no less. “Two Plays in Rep” rotates two different plays, depending on the day, with this quartet of actors; Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, or the play I saw, Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land”.
Heads up – since this is not your usual Nerd News Today article, expect me to wear my critical analysis hat as I ruminate about the in’s and out’s of this play itself, as well as review what I saw on stage that night.
“As it is,” asks Spooner (McKellan), as he dances around the stage, while Hirst (Stewart) stiffly sits in his chair, lost in himself. The setting is a lone room in London, the home of famous writer Hirst, a reclusive alcoholic who comes in and out of lucidity when he is not drowning in a bottle of Scotch. Spooner is a writer as well, a braggart of a floundering poet who has not tasted the riches and success that his host has. The two are strangers, with Spooner inserting himself somehow into Hirst’s evening, and the two are on opposite sides of the spectrum.
McKellen nimbly moves with the energy of someone half his age in his role as Spooner, gladly accepting the hospitality of Hirst, who may or may not even really be aware that there is someone in his home, pouring him his fifth drink in ten minutes. Foster (Crudup)and Briggs (Hensley) soon enter, the housekeepers for Hirst (which we do not know until Act Two), and protectors of him – whatever that could mean.
Stewart plays a man constantly in flux, sometimes unpredictable and erratic, others friendly and jovial, but all those facades lead back to his poised and cold mind that is hardly a part of waking life. He has an intense personality, whether he is telling a story from his university days at Oxford, or telling his recurring dream of drowning. His housekeepers act cold and cool around him, the fast-talking Foster being more light-hearted than his explosive friend, Briggs.
The pony-tailed Spooner is the intruder in Pinter’s play about mental paralysis, an invader in “No Man’s Land”, where nothing moves, but only grows icy and cold. The way McKellen interacts not just with the other actors, but his environment, is majestic and graceful. He carefully inspects the scenery that feels oft-familiar to him, the scenery that Stewart has become glued to, his character rarely unattached to a chair. The magic between the pair of veteran actors is clear when they converse in act two, a more aware Hirst believing Spooner to be an alumni of his (even though he is not, but Spooner cleverly plays along), but the complexity of their relationship is seen strong in the opening act, when Hirst first begins his transformation into his more harsh and paranoid personality.
Crudup and Hensley are up for the task when it comes to sharing the stage with such prolific actors, playing mysterious and powerful characters with very distinct personalities that mirror each other. However, these personalities merge when it comes to meeting the demands of their master, which usually relates to keeping him locked into his routine of going nowhere fast. Most people “fall in love” with Foster right away, while most don’t like Briggs at all, but with their character traits complimenting each other, they ultimately form one character, which I feel is the house itself.
The costumes and scenery design by Stephen Brimson Lewis stands out in this play, with the two things also working in tandem to create a unified cold and unmoving world. The round room with no corners traps the audience and the characters in Pinter’s story is augmented by the repetition of shapes and colors within it, whether it’s the shirt of Foster resembling the prison-line grid pattern on the house walls, or the ethereal blue color palette that pervades into the clothing that Hirst wears (whose clothing always seems to have those jail bars as well). The repetition of shapes also comes into play with the furniture, which Foster at one point notes that even the furniture has eyes – and they do, with every chair, cabinet, and even table cloth having two circular or spherical elements to it, keeping an eye permanently on its inhabitants. If you stay in one place long enough, you become that place, and this is a prime example of visually showing that. Even the round carpet on the floor has an endless feeling of falling into the deep blues hues, watching whoever sits above it to keep them trapped in a moment in time.
From the spry and nuanced performance of McKellen, to the sometimes reserved and sometimes unhinged performance by Stewart, and the one-two punch of Crudup and Hensley, “No Man’s Land” was a great experience that sent chills down my spine by the end of it. It reminded me a great deal of James Joyce’s short story, “The Sisters”, a tale of characters paralyzed and in their own version of no man’s land, and rightfully so since Pinter was influenced by Joyce. I enjoyed every minute of the play, and recommend you check it out while you can before it closes (or check out “Waiting for Godot”, which I have heard equally excellent things about).