The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's latest production of 'No Man's Land,' written by Harold Pinter and playing now through Aug. 29, isn't your traditional piece of theater. There's no action, no sequence of events more interesting than the entrances and exits of the four-person cast. But that doesn't make the play short on meaning, complexity, or poetry. In fact, if you ask Director Bonnie J. Monte, she'll say that the play "deals with epic questions that have plagued humanity since the beginning of time."
Monte, now in her 20th season with the Shakespeare Theatre, sees parallels between "No Man's Land" and "King Lear," which she directed with the Company two years ago. "This play is so similar to King Lear in a lot of ways that it's staying in the forefront of my brain," she said. "It's about a man dealing with the end of his life and how one wants to approach the end of his life."
She also sees a similarity to "Hamlet," which the Company performed last year. She says of the main character, Hirst, "He doesn't contemplate death, so it's not 'To be or not to be.' It's 'to be or kind of be.' "
It's a dark subject, portrayed with dark humor, dark revelations, and sometimes literal darkness, and Monte's direction captures these elements and reminds the audience that these four characters are locked away from the world and from life (again, sometimes literally) and brings interesting dimensions to Pinter's script about the fear of and the desire to participate in life.
She summarized the play as "a man at a crossroads in his life" who "has to make a decision about how he's going to spend the rest of his life; a choice to finish his life actively engaging in life, or to finish his days in a living death."
The remaining three characters—Spooner, Briggs and Foster—hover around Hirst in a series of offensives and power shifts, slipping in and out of specific roles and personalities until you're not sure which of them is real and which might be illusions brought on by Hirst's alcoholism, or even, at different moments during the play, are both. Even the director and the actors don't have concrete answers to that question. Said Monte, "It's realistic at the same time as it's surrealistic, and at the same time it's a dream, and a psychological thriller, and a piece of symbolic poetry. There are moments that feel entirely real, and moments that feel super-real, almost like a David Lynch movie. Sometimes it makes those flips seamlessly and sometimes kind of violently."
Monte recommends that audience members "walk in with no expectations." She advised, "Don't try and torture yourself by understanding it as you see it. There are many layers of complexity that will appear to the viewer after you see it."
"I don't think any two audience members are going to feel exactly the same about it. It's so complex and malleable that each person can and will see something different."
The cast of "No Man's Land" is Edmond Genest as Hirst, Sherman Howard as Spooner, Derek Wilson as Foster and Paul Mullins as Briggs. The play will be performed on the Main Stage of the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre at Drew University through August 29, Tuesdays through Saturdays. For curtain times and tickets, call the Box Office at (973) 408-5600 or go to www.shakespearenj.org.