No Man’s Land, Remy Bumpo, at Victory Gardens Theater. In Harold Pinter’s theatrical universe, people understand one another all too well: there’s no need to speak plainly when an elaborately coded evasion is sufficient to issue a threat or defy an order. The result can mesmerize, but in the 1975 No Man’s Land Pinter out-Pinters himself, obscuring so much of his characters’ histories and motivations that the play is only sporadically intelligible. A once successful but now doddering writer, Hirst, runs into aging literary failure Spooner and invites him to his home. The two might be long-ago college rivals, Hirst might have seduced Spooner’s wife some 40 years earlier, and Spooner might be trying to exact a pathetic revenge. Meanwhile Foster and Briggs, Hirst’s thuggish staffers, plot to ruin Spooner.

Director James Bohnen’s thoughtful, well-paced production takes a while to find its feet–the opening scene between Hirst and Spooner fails to create the veiled menace that would have given their relationship and the play urgency. But once Briggs and Foster arrive, oozing unctuous charm, the show’s engine starts to hum. As Hirst and Spooner, Joe Van Slyke and David Darlow give careful, deeply felt performances but occasionally fight to find their stakes in the power struggle that should envelop them. As Briggs and Foster, Nick Sandys and Mark L. Montgomery elicit a deliciously nuanced malevolence from Pinter’s murky script. Bohnen and company can’t solve the play’s numerous problems, but their crafty efforts are worth cheering.