by Lorie Lewis Ham
Last week I saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen on stage at Berkeley Rep, in a play called No Man’s Land, and it was an incredible experience! Seeing these two veterans of the stage together in person was a moment I will never forget. Stewart and McKellen’s acting, as you would expect, was flawless.No Man’s Land is a play by Harold Pinter, however I must admit when my brother first asked me if I wanted to see a show with Patrick Stewart in it, I would have said yes, no matter what kind of show it was. I am unashamedly a Trekkie. Adding McKellen to the mix made me even more excited.
To describe the plot of No Man’s Land is a bit difficult, and after reading some other reviews, I have to think perhaps open to the individual’s interpretation. This is how I saw it–Stewart’s character (Hirst) is an older, wealthy man who at one point was a very successful writer. It is never really explained during the show, but he seems to have become quite senile. McKellen’s character (Spooner) is a down on his luck poet, and at times appears to be a very clever con man who takes advantage of the situation, going with the flow of whoever Hirst thinks Spooner is at the time. It is never completely clear what memories they seem to share are real, or just in Hirst’s head. The play opens when the two men, who seem to be strangers who met at a pub, arrive at Hirst’s home, where he has invited Spooner for a drink. The play takes place entirely in Hirst’s sitting room, with an elegant but fairly simple set.
Stewart goes back and forth seamlessly between quiet, sad, drunken old man, to bold, successful, writer. McKellen is a delight as Spooner, shifting gears to fit the moment and regaling Hirst and the audience with his many tales of adventure. The two men take the audience on a roller coaster of emotions in this both sad and hilarious play.
It is a very small cast and the other two actors play what appear to be Hirst’s caretakers, though at one point Foster, played by Billy Crudup, claims to be Hirst’s son. Crudup, while of course much younger than Stewart and McKellen, comes with a great deal of experience on stage and screen, including winning a Tony award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in The Coast of Utopia. Foster is a ladies man, who obviously grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and comes off as a bit of a con man himself. You are never quite sure if he is trying to protect Hirst from Spooner for Hirst’s sake, or his own.
Shuler Hensley plays Crudup’s best friend Briggs, and another caretaker for Hirst. Briggs is the not all that bright tough guy type of role, with some nice comedic moments, but we never know a lot of his history except how he met Foster. Hensley also comes to this play with a lot of theater experience, including appearing on Broadway as The Monster in Young Frankenstein.
No Man’s Land is at times a comedy, at times a drama, a mystery, and at times quite sad. Director Sean Mathias brings this show together beautifully for a great night of theatre. No Man’s Land goes next to New York where it will play in repertory with Waiting For Godot. If you get the chance to see this show, do not miss it! Not only is the play itself quite interesting and enjoyable, but the cast is beyond amazing!
As a Trekkie, it was also an incredible moment to get to meet Stewart after the show. He was charming and gracious, shaking hands and chatting a bit before leaving.
No Man’s Land plays at Berkeley Rep until the end of August. More information can be found on their website.