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Monday, June 24, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

A jolly good night

The UB Theater Department's production of Harold Pinter's 1959 play A Night Out was, as the program notes state, an 'exercise in realism.' It examines just how real things can get.
Pinter, the iconoclastic, incredibly liberal Nobel laureate, creates an environment in which everything is not as it seems. There's an underbelly to Pinter's writing that creates a tension that would otherwise come across as cliché. Pinter's London is a playground for those in their 20s, but not everyone is up for it.
The play's protagonist, Albert Stokes, finds out the hard way.
Stokes (Ryan Cupello) is a typical young man in his late 20s who lives with his mother (Amanda McDowall), an overbearing, abusive widow who suffocates the young man's chances of living for himself. Viewers immediately find the two fighting each other to the depths of hell – all for a missing tie.
Stokes wants to go out that night to his boss's party. Everyone will be there, he says. He has to go. His mother does everything she can to guilt Stokes into not leaving, but to no avail. Her powers in shaming can only go so far.
When Stokes goes to the party, he encounters his brash coworkers, including three very pretty girls and his office arch-nemesis, Gidney (Shawn Smith). His shyness proves to be his weakness, and after an incident provoked by another coworker, he is tacitly expelled.
A nasty fight with his mother and an encounter with a neurotic girl ensue, escalating the tension even further as Stokes slowly but surely becomes more confident.
The production itself was performed expertly. Cupello played Stokes with an infuriating depression that rubbed off on all the other characters. McDowall was also a standout, incredibly annoying and totally convincing as a manipulative British nightmare.
The other characters, particularly the unnamed girl (Genevieve Lerner), keep intact a gloomy milieu. None of Stokes's friends seem to like him, and the girl is so neurotic that she might just drive Stokes away from the opposite sex all together.
The minimalist sets were accurate as well. They had just enough to convince the audience that they were witnessing scenes from London in 1959. The skinny ties, bourbon and, of course, cigarettes looked like they came straight from the set of Mad Men.
However, despite the production's best attempts to bring Pinter's ideas alive, the play itself is seriously flawed. It might be taboo to criticize Pinter, who is considered one of the world's best playwrights of the past 50 years, but his play confuses the matters of life and death with trivial social errors.
Everything boils down to Stokes's relationships with women. Pinter writes Stokes as if he knows absolutely nothing about women, yet Pinter seems to think that he knows everything about women himself.
Stokes may be shy, but that doesn't mean he can't get along with girls. He has probably had enough experience with his mother to know that women – in men's eyes – can be somewhat of a mystery.
Pinter's female characters, with the exception of the mother, don't come across as likable. It is a mystery why Stokes would want a relationship with any of these women.
The author has stated that his plays focus on a man's entrance into the real world. In A Night Out, at least, the real world doesn't exist. It is replaced by jerks that argue over football and cheese sandwiches.
The play itself is set with a one-kilometer radius, making London seem like a collection of old record players and gas-powered fireplaces.
If Pinter was trying to predict the tumultuous '60s, he did so with a considerable amount of condescension. Stokes tries to break free, yet in real life that usually takes years, not one night.
Overall, Pinter's take on a young man's maturity is sensationalist. Stokes' trip to maturity works better as a horror story rather than a drama. He shares much with Hitchcock's psychopathic shut-in, Norman Bates.
The production did the best it could have with the material. The acting and resulting characterization were excellent, but like Stokes, the audience may not be up for it.
A Night Out can be seen at the CFA's black box theater until Feb. 28.

E-mail: arts@ubspectrum.com


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