Suzanne Bouchard and Frank Corrado are riveting in Harold Pinter'ês Ashes to Ashes, on ACT'ês intimate cabaret stage through February 7. It'ês a pleasure to see two such fine performers spar with one another, focused and full of nuance and ably directed by veteran Victor Pappas. And it's an encouraging start for a new theater venture dedicated to Pinter plays.
Ashes is classic Pinter: Kafka without the cockroach. One of Pinter's last plays, and never before professionally staged in Seattle, it'ês redolent of Albee'ês Who'ês Afraid of Virginia Woolf and of Betrayal, Pinter'ês mid-career marital defenestration, but less pickled and more obscure. Certain playwrights — Chekhov, Ionesco, McDonagh — thrill some patrons while baffling or boring others. Shadow and Light Theatre, a newly-minted company committed to producing Pinter in Seattle. The first piece of the evening, a three-hander entitled A Kind of Alaska, poses greater challenges to the performers. This intriguing true story, which Pinter lifted from Oliver Sacks, is an anti-Sleeping Beauty, lacking the least trace of faerie or fable.
Bouchard shows tremendous commitment to the difficult principal role — a woman awakened after 29 years of a kind of coma. How can one effectively play this middle-aged person who emerges full of the teenage emotions she felt when she was last conscious, and half-captive still in mirrored halls of mental arrest? The actress'ês birdlike gestures deftly convey the woman'ês astonished state.
Regrettably, the relationship between her sister and that sister'ês husband (a doctor who has cared for Bouchard'ês character all these years) is not adequately illustrated; tensions and sacrifices are indicated but not delineated. The doctor seems tired, his wife angry. I thought that more subtleties of their joy and bitterness, hope and jealousy and shared sacrifice were needed to round out the play. Yet this piece too merits an audience.
ACT, which hosts the show, serves increasingly as nurse log to Seattle'ês intriguing new stage ventures. The theater offers performance space, promotion, ticketing and other services as well as a welcoming community — all crucial to young companies without infrastructure or brand awareness. The Fringe Festival and New City Directors'ê and Playwrights'ê festivals of yore were much populated by callow youth; ACT seems rather to attract groups of mature artists who bring to the theater'ês downtown stages decades of distilled experience in exciting new combinations.