Review: The Lover (Three Peasants Theatre)

Stephan Ermel as Richard, Nicole Buscema as Sarah in The Lover

Three Peasants Theatre presents Harold Pinter’s The Lover at Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre

Three Peasant’s Theatre transforms the Alumnae Theatre into a 1960’s suburban British homestead in Harold Pinter’s The Lover. Director Peter Wylde created a multi-layered production, casting talented actors and treating even comedic moments with severity and intention.

The Lover focuses on a suburban British couple who have slumped into routine after ten years of marriage. The play opens with the husband, Richard (Stephan Ermel) performing his morning “off-to-work” ritual while his wife, Sarah (Nicole Buscema) looks on with disinterest. The two converse in between pauses with approving moans or grunts – until Richard bluntly asks if Sarah will be seeing “her lover” again today.

Seeing the characters styled in 1960’s garb and speaking with accents makes this question all the more shocking. It seems to set off two audience alarms simultaneously: one in the modern mind which would find that kind of question startling at the best of times; and the second in the suspended disbelief created by Wylde, that in that era, in that lifestyle, those words must have been all the more crippling. However, in Pinter’s 1962 play, Sarah responds with a nonchalant “yes”. And so the show unfolds.

Both Stephan Ermel as Richard and Nicole Buscema as Sarah were captivating and elegant. Ermel’s passion and intensity added credibility to even the most comedic of moments. Buscema was delicate and deliberate in her movements, postures and gestures, evoking the oppression of her role and culture with desperate precision.

Never have I seen a production so well-rehearsed and clearly developed around the two principal characters. Their accents and intonation matched! Additionally, the two looked of and embodied the era as best they could, despite the hodgepodge styling of the set, which would have been stellar furnished with mid-century modern pieces, rather than knick-knacks and furniture sampling the ’60s/’70s/’80s.

The energy between the two characters held the audience in such deafening silence that we could hear the stage lights creaking. Yet the scene changes and long pauses in between lines seemed extreme, ultimately stalling the pace and producing the dreaded “oh, it’s dark and it’s warm in here” yawns.

My guest and I would have preferred the actors to be about ten years older. Had these performers married ten years ago, they would have still been in high school. Something about the lived experience of the day to day monotony leading to someone taking a lover seemed lost on them. And yet, what experience they could draw from – moments of youthful sexuality and play – were perfectly executed and quite exciting to watch.

The Lover was a great showcase for incredible talent, bringing Pinter’s 1962 comedy/drama to life with integrity. I would keep an eye out for future productions directed by Wylde, and of course will look forward to the excellent work of Stephan Ermel and Nicole Buscema in the future.

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Photo of Stephan Ermel and Nicole Buscema