The Two Sirs recently delighted Broadway audiences by performing together in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot" and Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land" in repertory. Performing shows in repertory seemed to be a hot trend this season (with the amazing Shakespeare's Globe productions of "Richard III" and "Twelfth Night"). And the chance to see the Two Sirs, the cutest old-man-BFFs ever to exist, onstage together was too good to pass up. But "No Man's Land" is legit the strangest play.
When they did actually say words, I had trouble understanding what they were saying (was is the pretend drunkenness or the terrible acoustics?), so when Billy Crudup and Schuyler Hensley entered as Stewart’s henchmen/assistants, I was excited. But then poor Billy opened his mouth. I don't know what kind of ‘English’ accent he was doing, but it sounded like the dog from ‘Up’ with the broken voice collar after having done crystal meth in Courtney Love’s bathroom and then drinking lemon juice. Like what in the everlasting tuck. How did the director, or anyone on set before opening night, fail to address the issue of this accent? It threw me off at first, but then it just pissed me off. Billy is so much better than that.
So Ian and Pat were drinking, acting aloof, saying random ass things to each other, and Billy and Schuyler were alternating between hospitably tending to the guest and threatening to beat him and throw him out. There was little to no pattern evident in the attitude changes. But then in the second act, Pat opened up and shared his life story, and we learn that these two characters are not strangers as it appeared in the first act. No, they went to school together, had the same group of friends, and Pat even had an affair with Ian's wife, which he was not in the least bit ashamed of talking freely about. It was totally awk. And then Pat talked about how he was all afraid of this dream he has where he's by the lake or something and that place he nightmares about is his no man's land or some weird shit like that. I was just worried the whole time that someone was going to beat up Ian McKellen and he would actually get hurt because he's old but no one would realize that he wasn't faking his injuries.
The second act's change in dynamics didn't really help move the story. There really wasn't a story. In fact, I could not tell you want the show was about, more than I have above, even for a million dollars. I mean it’s more about the existential dwellings and commiserations and reminiscences about the two old men who once upon a time were acquaintances. It’s not really about things happening.
The one thing that struck me was that it was just like the Bunuel movie mentioned in "Midnight in Paris" where the characters are unable to leave the room, no matter how much they want to. I love how in "Midnight", Bunuel himself is like "That's the worst idea for a movie ever; why couldn't they just leave? Why couldn't they just leave!!!" So that's what Ian's role and the play in general made me think of. I was ready to scream after 4 minutes in, "Ian! My dear! Why don't you just leeeave!!! Ian! Go! Get out of there!" But frustratingly not only does he not leave, he ends up begging to stay indefinitely! INDEFINITELY. Whaaat kind of masochist! Oh Pinter. I just don’t get you!
Despite my complaints, this production was amazing. Why? Because I got to see Stewart and McKellen on stage together, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This show was worth seeing and paying full price five times over for, because this pairing will likely never happen again outside of X-Men movies. I would have loved spending a few hours in the Cort Theatre even if the Two Sirs just read the phone book. Which actually would have made more sense than this play. Oh Pinter. Someone explain him to me.