On a recent trip to San Francisco we were lucky enough to get tickets to see Jonathan Pryce in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.
I met Jonathan many years ago - he provided the voiceover for several of the TV commercials I wrote.
He was an exceptionally nice man. In fact many of the actors I met in this way were wonderfully un-celebrity-like. John Hurt, Ian Holm, George Clooney, Frank Langella were all a joy to work with. Then there were the others who shall remain nameless.
Anyway, I take this digression to explain why I am always interested in what Jonathan is doing. His career is littered with amazing performances. So I was fairly sure we were in for another. And we were.
As one reviewer said...
"Clarity is not commonly thought to be one of Harold Pinter’s signature virtues. But when his work is done right — and the penetrating British import production of “The Caretaker” starring two-time Tony winner Jonathan Pryce at San Francisco's Curran Theatre is nearly flawless — there’s a dreamlike lucidity that will have you seeing deep into the underground pathways of human nature."
Nearly flawless. I agree.
But sadly the place was half empty the Saturday night we saw the production. And the applause at the end was polite but not in keeping with the tour-de-force performance the audience had just witnessed.
You can never know what a performer is thinking as he or she takes that bow at the end of a powerful, tiring and demanding perofrmance - and in this case, the second of the day - but from my seat just four rows from the stage I could see Jonathan glancing around the theater. Was he looking at the empty seats or the filled ones? Was he wondering where the standing ovation was? Was he wondering how much more he could give...what this audience wanted that they did not get?
I had a horrible feeling at that moment. And I want to apologize to my old acquaintance (it would be going too far to say friend) for not being the first to stand and start the response his performance merited. I was too in shock at the half-hearted response of the room!
It was not the perofrmances that night, everyone in the play is terrific. So was it the play itself? The critics don't seem to think so and nor did I. So it is the city? I think the sad answer may be yes.
I imagined this same performance at BAM in Brooklyn - where we saw John Tuturro and Patrick Stewart do great things with Becket and Shakespeare - and became convinced that it would have been a packed house and a very different reception.
Why this is I'm not sure. But it does not bode well for this kind of theater.
Delving into the depths of the human condition, wrestling with the words of great writers, putting more of yourself into another character than is probably safe for your own sanity, surely this is what great theater is all about.
Jonathan Pryce in The Caretaker is great theater. But I worry that this is not what most people are seeking when they go out on a Saturday night in San Francisco.
The production goes on tour after it's stop in the Bay Area. Catch it if you can.