Public Trust Theatre Company

at Urbus Orbis

You have to wonder why Public Trust Theatre Company is presenting two such wildly different one-acts on the same bill. Harold Pinter’s One for the Road is a dry, cruel drama; The Beggar’s Opera Cabaret! is a campy, all-female version of John Gay’s satire of early 18th-century English life. With only one (well-received) production, Hard Times, to its credit, an identity crisis is not what Public Trust needs.

The Beggar’s Opera Cabaret! was adapted and directed by Gina Kaufmann. Once all-female versions of such classics as Shakespeare and Bonanza were a bold new concept. Kaufmann presents her adaptation with all the energy that usually accompanies bold new concepts, but unfortunately the concept is now old and tired. This production’s biggest flaw is that Kaufmann and her three actresses think their idea is really, really cool. They have that “Hey! Look at me!” energy, but they don’t have anything to say.

The Beggar’s Opera merits its reputation as a classic. It’s a parody of class distinctions at a time when marriage was a financial contract and sex was a commodity. Gay cuts through the false morality of 18th-century England to expose what his characters really want: sex and money. And are things really different today? You can’t knock Kaufmann’s source. But it seems more than a bit extraneous to try to turn it into a play about gender distinctions too.

Macheath, the sleazy but terribly sexy protagonist, courts two lusty young virgins who fall sway to his burning kisses. The greedy parents are furious, believing that the girls’ passions will impede their ability to extract money from Macheath, who is well known as a wealthy thief. It’s a campy story to begin with, and the actresses camp it up even more. They wiggle like Jell-O when they play the women and are as sturdy and hefty as a piece of steak when they play the men. Their characterizations aren’t very interesting, nor are they funny. The most intriguing part of this production is wondering which actresses will enter next wearing which costume.

One for the Road is on the other end of the spectrum. Although Pinter’s one-act is far better conceived, performed, and directed, next to Beggar’s Opera it feels like a dry dissection of power and politics. Typically, Pinter only hints at the who, what, where, why, and when of his story: four short interrogations occur in a posh office in what seems to be a large military building. Some hints are enormous, as when a prisoner, Victor, enters with a black eye and a broken arm and can barely support himself. Other hints are more subtle, as when the interrogator, Nicholas, tells Victor that all the soldiers have fallen in love with his wife, who is imprisoned on the second floor. Or when he comments on the annoying impudence of Victor’s son.

Nicholas’s hints are simply another form of torture, and perhaps proof that mental torture is stronger than physical torture. Max Baker plays Nicholas as a weak man, prone to drinking Scotch and oddly bored with his job. Underplaying the role, he dourly passes over moments of cruelty that might have been savored–because what Nicholas does drives the action. This production is compelling, but it’s hardly as chilling as the harsh truth about torture.