Monday, October 11, 2010

Pinter Fortnightly. Madagascar (JT Rogers).

And now for something different.

To shake things up a little bit after a dozen or so readings of Harold Pinter's expansive body of work, tonight's reading is of a work by a different playwright, JT Rogers. To keep things connected, Madagascar won the 2005 Pinter Prize for Drama, but I will leave aside any comparisons to Pinter. It isn't fair to Rogers, or his play, or my understanding of it, to hold up this single work against the vast landscape that makes up my experiences with Harold Pinter. There isn't a history, a memory; I walk in the door with no expectations, except from the actors, who are, as always, perfect.

Madagascar is about secrets and mysteries. It is about memory, and how memories and family histories are made. It plays with time, as three people at three different points of time unravel their interconnecting stories. A character's place in time shifts their memory of what happened in the past. A mother and daughter, Lilian and June, are locked in an emotional triangle with their son and twin brother (respectively), who is not a part of the play and yet is spoken of so vividly it seems that he appears before you, along with their also unseen husband and father. The third character onstage, the mother's lover, adds his own dimension to these unseen characters.

At the heart of the story is the son's disappearance. The mother's story takes place in that moment before he was supposed to arrive; his sister's retraces the five years after that. His twin spends two or three years searching the world for him, before finally accepting that he is gone forever. But is he? In her last days, a mysterious postcard arrives, with the words "I'm still here." But we never know what it means. There are too many questions unanswered. Lilian slips away and drowns in a lake; June takes the perfect combination of pills in that same Roman hotel room where they stayed in her childhood. There is a kind of terrible symmetry to their deaths: the mother, when she feels that her son is gone forever, and the daughter, when her brother comes back from the dead. (Or does he?).

In the end, it is the lover, Nathan, who is left behind in that Roman hotel room in the present day. June has died, as has her mother, years before. Like the rest of us in the audience, he is full of unanswered questions. Such is life, without clear-cut answers.

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