A Conversation with John Valadez on the Occasion of his Residency at Fine Art Solutions, by James Scarborough
"JORDI ALCARAZ: defying boundaries", Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, by James Scarborough

"The Lover", directed by Allen Sewell for the Found Theatre, by James Scarborough

INTRODUCTION. Can a bed be a red herring? It can in Harold Pinter’s The Lover. House right, there’s a bed. A single bed. It’s there, but not really. On a small stage, it represents the bedroom. House left, the living room. Thing is, as the story develops, and you realize what’s going on, that bed, so full of possibility, literally and metaphorically, never gets used for the purpose for which the story’s title implies it should. A dangling metaphor? Hardly. Without divulging the story’s amazing plot twist, the unused bed shows us how the story’s not about passion and desire but power and control. About the dynamics that exist between a couple as they indulge a fantasy to engage in some clever, clever role play. (End. Of. Spoiler.)

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?  Richard (Craig Johnson) is married to Sarah (Gaelyn Wilkie). They live in London. (Important to note: the story is set in 1963. Swinging London was about to blast onto the international stage. Given the way the story unfolds, it’s clear that that Pinter understands the culture well.) Richard and Sarah, however, seem to be as normal (viz. British) as possible. Each day he dons his bowler hat and scurries off to some financial servicejob. She demurely kisses him goodbye. A lot can be said in a demure kiss.

They have an arrangement. It’s a lulu. Matter of factly, as if asking what’s for tea, he inquires, Is your lover coming today? Wait, WTF? That wee shocker bursts their prim and proper bubble of respectability.

The story describes the circumstances about the relationship of Sarah and her Lover. (Hint: it’s not what you’d expect.) How respectful Richard is towards this arrangement (I’ll go to the National Gallery after work so I don’t interrupt you). How mindful Sarah feels towards Richard. (I do think of you when I’m with him.)

Because this blockbuster revelation comes so early in the story, it’s obvious there will be complications heaped upon complications. There are. That there will be a massive reveal about halfway through. There is. That there will be a moment of crisis that gets resolved. There is, it does.

WHY DOES IT MATTER? It’s easy enough to judge someone, something by what you see or hear. But there’s always something below the surface, isn’t there? And, like here, there’s something under the surface of the surface. In other words, look before you leap to judgment.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT? Anyone who likes Harold Pinter. Who likes oh-so-British-theatre. Who likes tight-knit, snappily-dialogued domestic dramedies that undermine and then magnificently exceed our initial expectations.

WHAT SHOULD I FOCUS ON? The set. Director Sewell, who doubled as set designer, makes that stage scream with intent. The claustrophobia of a small suburban house could drive a partner to seek a lover or a couple to engage in some role play. Think cabin fever. The bed, as mentioned above, gets us to think at first, This is about illicit sex. Then, given it’s notable lack of use, it makes us realize there’s something else afoot.

The performances of Craig Johnson (Richard) and Gaelyn Wilkie (Sarah). Playing characters in what amounts to a play within a play is never easy. They make it look like child’s play. Their chemistry is perfect. As husband and wife, they respect boundaries, all things considered. The way they handle the Lover is amazing. Especially good: Johnson’s declaration that he want to end the relationship because the Whore (his term for his wife when she’s with her Lover) isn't as chubby as she used to be (Chubby being a desired body type for him) riffs with ambiguity. Does he refer to his wife or does he refer to the Whore? Is he serious or is this a titillation? Wilkie’s mesmerizing reaction: Rapt vulnerability, followed by a lambent indignation, concluding with a fiery How do like them apples?

THE VERDICT? Hie thee there, pronto - it closes this Sunday. Well acted, subtly directed, it will make you realize just how, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a fantasy is not just a fantasy is not just a fantasy.

HOW DO I VISIT? Performances are  8 p.m., Friday & Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Sunday. The show runs until May 27. Thursday, My 24, is a pay what you can performance. Tickets are $15. The Found Theatre is located  at 599 Long Beach Boulevard, Long Beach, 908902. For more information, call (562) 433-3363 or email [email protected].