By Richard Ades
Columbus thespian Katherine Burkman is continuing her love affair with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.
Her former group, Women at Play, presented several works by the playwrights when it was active around the turn of the millennium. And now Burkman has made them the focus of a Wild Women Writing show called On the Edge.
Co-presented by Short North Stage, the program consists of an hour-long one-act and two shorter pieces by Pinter, as well as a one-woman play by Beckett. It’s a pleasantly puzzling way to spend an afternoon or evening.
The most rewarding work is the longest, Pinter’s The Collection. The play delves into the power struggle that grows out of an alleged episode of marital infidelity.
James (Stephen Woosley) accuses Bill (Nick Lingnofski) of having a one-night stand with his wife, Stella (Colleen Dunne). Bill denies it ever happened and tries to keep the whole matter from his older lover and benefactor, Harry (Geoffrey Nelson).
Working under Burkman’s direction, the entire cast performs ably. Woosley exudes menace as the accusatory James, while Lingnofski’s Bill responds with oily obfuscation. One of the piece’s joys is seeing Nelson’s Harry finally take charge of the situation after being consigned to the sidelines for much of the running time.
Oddly, the piece is performed with American accents even though the dialogue places the action firmly in the UK. But that’s a distraction only when a character lets loose with a Briticism such as “old chap” or “bollocks.”
Also performed in Americanese, though it’s obviously set in London, is Victoria Station. It’s the comic tale of a taxi dispatcher (David Fawcett) who tries to send a maddeningly obtuse driver (Lingnofski) to the titular railway terminal.
Much of the piece resembles a low-key version of the kind of absurd comic sketches Monty Python specialized in. (Substitute “dead parrot” for “Victoria Station” and you’ll see what I mean.) The contrast between Fawcett’s increasingly frustrated dispatcher and Lingnofski’s uncooperative cabbie is good for several chuckles, but the piece’s darker elements might work better if the latter came off as something more than a blissed-out ignoramus.
Burkman herself takes the stage in Rockaby, the show’s one contribution by Beckett. Much like the playwright’s Krapp’s Last Tape, it consists of the interplay between an elderly character and that character’s recorded voice.
The situation, however, is far simpler. Rather than reviewing her life, the old woman is simply trying to lull herself to sleep (or something more permanent) by listening to a series of repetitive recordings. Working under Ken Pearlman’s direction, Burkman delivers a portrayal effectively tinged with exhaustion and regret.
After all the power plays, frustrations and anguish of the previous works, Pinter’s Night ends the program on an entirely different note. Susie Gerald and Fawcett offer a tender enactment of an older couple’s attempt to agree on the details of their first meeting.
It’s a short and unexpectedly sweet conclusion to an engrossing visit with two of the last century’s most celebrated playwrights.
Wild Women Writing and Short North Stage will present On the Edge through March 15 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20. Contact: shortnorthstage.org.