Culture  An ode to black sheep

TNC’s new production about every family’s sore thumb

Most families have that one relative – usually a distant aunt or twice-removed uncle – who is so weird that they’re almost creepy, yet so quirky that they become endearing. The Caretaker, Tuesday Night Cafe Theatre’s second production of the season, gives that relative a second look. Written by the esteemed English playwright Harold Pinter, this play – much like its main character – comes strolling onto our campus bearing mischief in the one pocket and eccentricity in the other. 
Using their distinct floor-plan to their advantage, TNC forces audience members to pick their way through the ridiculously cluttered apartment of a set to get to their seats. This puts the viewers – quite literally – in the characters’ shoes for a moment.

“You play an active part; by taking it all in, this show pushes you to think,” says director Laura Freitag. And indeed it does. While searching for a spot, you find yourself scrutinized by Mick (Joy Ross-Jones), who unabashedly glares the audience into place. Without a word, he leaves, ceding the stage to a washed-up, homeless old man, Davies (Melissa Keogh), who is led to the apartment by Aston (Amanda McQueen), Mick’s older brother. He starts the dialogue rolling, and it’s your job to keep up. 
Pinter is careful to flesh out his characters without explicitly describing them. From Davies’s idiosyncratic, twitchy movements, to the smile that almost – but never quite – escapes Aston’s face, to Mick’s unfaltering stare, we are given snapshots of people, from which we must draw our own conclusions. This is a ton of fun, as the play is surprisingly funny. Not in the way comedies usually are, but rather in an unspoken way, prompting giggling that comes up when it really shouldn’t – like at a funeral or during a church service. In fact, I found myself glancing around between chuckles to see if other people were laughing. They were. 
Behind, or perhaps intertwined with, this humour lurks a mysterious cobweb of facts that we never fully see but of which we become very aware. What really happens in Aston’s apartment? Why did he allow a homeless stranger in? And what exactly hides underneath Mick’s over-the-top pleasantness? Speculation about these answers is fascinating, though purely open to interpretation. For instance, was one brother mistaken for the other in events leading up to the play? That’s for you to decide.

The Caretaker’s set is spacious, leaving much room for the eye to wander – perhaps even to its detriment. Since the actors demand so much attention, they could have explored more opportunities away from centre stage. Despite some delays, the lighting in between scenes was well-designed, giving us a sense of time passing.

Strikingly, the director chose to cast women for the three male roles of Mick, Davies, and Aston. In a somewhat ingenious move, Freitag thus showcases the McGill theatre community’s female actors in engrossing roles, without worrying about character gender. Obviously aware of our politically minded campus, Freitag added an amusing note “for the feminists” who come see the show: “Is gender performed? Are these men? Are these women? Does this really even matter?” 
This decision was a success: these are male characters played exceptionally well by female actors. The current theatre season not yet out of its growing pains, we have seen some sharply acted roles (Jessica Kostuck’s Yitzhak in Hedwig comes to mind), but if McGill Theatre had its Oscar equivalent, we would now have a clear front-runner in Melissa Keogh. Playing a simultaneously zany, scared, and self-bewildering Davies, her performance exceeds all standards. With constant ticks and quirks, the role is physically demanding, but Keogh never backs down. It is the role that makes the play.