First produced in 1960, The Caretaker is one of the early plays that, along with the likes of The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, established Harold Pinter as Pinterian. Its simple, strange tale of an old drifter called Davies and the two brothers who take him in has all the signature elements: menace, inertia, unwinnable games, sudden violence, and, most of all, opacity. Here, as elsewhere, Pinter maintains a sense of existential mystery, never lowering himself to the level of offering motivations. There are no motivations. Or justifications. Or exposition, either, for that matter. Characters have just enough past to make their present obscure, just enough emotion to make their gambits ambiguous. At some level we feel that their actions and reactions must make sense. But that feeling has less to do with observation than with desire.
Ron OJ Parson’s production for Writers’ Theatre adds a bit of novelty to the mix: the brothers, Mick and Aston, aren’t white Englishmen as usual. They appear to be Anglo-Indian. This innovation discloses nothing, clarifies nothing. To the contrary, it deepens the mystery. Now, along with everything else, we have to wonder why they tolerate Davies’s racism.
Parson’s cast makes the discomfort compelling. Anish Jethmalani maintains a suggestive stillness as Aston. William J. Norris’s Davies is a classic: a stupid man who tries to be cunning. And Kareem Bandealy is a wild card as Mick, a bully who can push you into a corner then offer you salt from the glass shaker in his pocket.