Review: ‘Little Menace: Pinter Plays’ at Soulpepper

LittleMenace-photobyDahliaKatz-2746.jpg
  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

Rarely have I ever had a chance to see a Harold Pinter play because one hasn’t been done so far.  So, when I heard Soulpepper would be doing a series of Pinter one acts, I was intrigued and ventured forth to the Distillery District. 

I don’t remember reading Pinter plays during my undergraduate years at Western in studying English Language and Literature.  For shame, for shame, I know but I learned more about the term ‘Pinteresque’ from conversations with others in my involvement in community theatre or in discussions with other actors there.

I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in the Michael Young theatre. Suffice it to say that at the curtain call I applauded these accomplished actors as Pinter plays are not easy ones to perform. Why? It’s all in the timing of the amazing repartee of word play and synchronistic banter of the performers to each other in listening and responding to each other as ordinary people in ordinary moments. Actor Diego Matamoros succinctly narrowed it down in his Programme Artist Note:

“Being human (for Harold) is just not something that’s explainable…for Harold, it’s all language and questions, OK? Disturbing questions about how we confuse and menace each other with language.”

‘Little Menace’ for me was at times perplexing, other times confusing and a bit tiresome and weary. Still there are moments that appear to be dangerous and why would any person want to put himself or himself in that situation. There were moments of paradoxical brilliance mixed into this smorgasbord. And I realized these words also describe our human condition too given the context of the moment. Again, Mr. Matamoros writes in his Artist Note: “We try to go somewhere (every once in a while) where our human silences and our people words can perhaps for a few PINTERESQUE moments meet and be shared, like at the theatre.”

And it is was an enlightening opening night at Soulpepper. ‘Little Menace’ may not be to one’s liking or one taste. After careful dialogue and discussion with a friend who attended with me, and in further thinking, ‘Little Menace’ was very much to my taste because playwright David Hare says, “You never know what the hell’s coming next.”

Shannon Lea Doyle’s set design looked like a cross between an Ikea and Wayfair commercial. I liked the monochromatic colour washing of the white on the walls and the grey suits on the four actors. Before the performance began, Messrs. Prest, Matamoros and McCooeye tidied up, gently moved some of the pieces around while making direct contact with each other silently. For me, here was the sign of excellent actors. In complete silence while moving around and through eye contact, these actors instinctively knew what the other was thinking and responded through their eyes and minimal facial expressions.

Simon Rossiter’s lighting design from the LED floods, to the fluorescent tubing, and to the sharply lit focal points drew my attention to a specific action given the context of the short play. Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design also became an extremely important part of the action of the play. I loved the exact timing of the sound of the liquid pouring from the decanter into the glasses.

Under Thomas Moschopoulos’ steady direction, Maev Beaty, Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye and Gregory Prest lead us on a journey into a precarious world far removed from our own. The 10 one acts presented are at times puzzling, yet the human condition is a puzzling one as well.   

Mr. Matamoros narrating the setting and directions from what I think is a film noir script still confuses the hell out of me, but Ms. Beaty, Mr. Prest and Mr. McCooeye are mesmerizing to watch in suggested moments of erotica, sexual intrigue and mind games. The word play between Messrs. Matamoros and Prest in what I construed as a salesman telling his supervisor about various products on the market and their names was hilarious to hear. Additionally, Mr. Matamoros as the dispatcher and Mr. McCooeye as the dimwitted cabbie in trying to negotiate a pick-up was pure magic once again to hear.

‘Little Menace: Pinter Plays’ runs to March 10 at Soulpepper in the Michael Young Theatre, 50 Tank House Lane, in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District.  Visit www.soulpepper.ca for further information.  For tickets, visit www.youngcentre.ca or telephone 416.866.8666.

Running Time: 90 minutes approximately with no intermission

Performers: Maev Beaty, Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye, Gregory Prest

Director: Thomas Moschopoulos, Set and Costume Designer: Shannon Lea Doyle, Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter, Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne, Stage Manager: Darragh Parsons, Assistant Stage Manager: Seren Brooke Lannon

Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.  From left: Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye, Gregory Prest and Maev Beaty.