Ashes to Ashes: Dense and Chilling Quiet

Local Arts Reviews

Ashes to Ashes:

Dense and Chilling Quiet

The Vortex,

Through December 5

Running Time: 45 min

There is a wonderful, all-encapsulating moment in the middle of this Public Domain production of Harold Pinter's play: As husband Devlin, played by David Stahl, prowls around the room in a jealous rage, by turns lecturing and pleading with his wife, the slip-clad Rebecca, played by Katherine Catmull, sits calmly in a chair until she finally lilts in her impeccable British accent the understatement of the year: "By the way, I'm terribly upset."

As in nearly all Pinter plays, the characters in Ashes to Ashes (which was written in about two weeks some three years ago) engage Britishly in the intricate dance of conversation, drink-pouring, and cosmic misunderstanding. As the facts surrounding Rebecca's sinister secret (something related to a Holocaust-like atrocity) tentatively unfold, husband and wife react with every misreading and evasive tactic in the book. As ever in Pinter, the subject of discussion -- a police siren, a pen rolling off the table, the relationship between God and soccer -- thinly veils some other exchange that is often more sexual, and always more menacing.

PD artistic director (and Chronicle arts writer) Robi Polgar directed Pinter's Betrayal earlier this year, and both Catmull and Stahl appeared in Pinter one-acts recently at Hyde Park Theatre: A Kind of Alaska and The Collection, respectively. The trio are therefore old hats when it comes to Pinter, playing every revelatory silence to the hilt. This is a lot of silence, and the intimate setting of the Vortex (with only one wall of seats available) makes the dense quiet especially chilling and (one supposes deliberately) uncomfortable.

Clocking in at under an hour, Ashes to Ashes is a dramatic nugget of conversational and interpersonal meltdown. The short running time means the element of suspense never entirely flourishes (as it did so slickly, for example, in The Collection), but it also means the silences don't have time to get stale. And against the backdrop of those silences, Stahl's spitting rage and Catmull's faraway eyes make for a sharp and steadily intense little play, well worth seeing, though it takes far more time to digest than to witness.

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