Monday, August 19, 2013

No Man's Land

One of the biggest surprises at the Star Trek (ST) convention Karen and I attended last February was when Patrick Stewart announced that he and acting buddy, Ian McKellan, were going to perform together in a play “not too far from here.” We were hoping they’d be in L.A. or at the Old Globe in San Diego, but instead the play is being staged—this month only—at the Berkeley Rep in northern California. Despite my well-documented fear of flying, Karen and I hopped on a plane yesterday morning to attend a matinee performance of Harold Pinter’s four-person play No Man’s Land, starring Sirs Patrick and Ian as well as Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. 

Perhaps best known for their roles in ST (Patrick), The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies (Ian), and the X-Men trilogy (both), Stewart and McKellan were, of course, distinguished Shakespearean actors long before their more recent careers in blockbuster films. McKellan, in particular, is considered one of the greatest actors alive and has been nominated twice for an Oscar. Although we’ve seen Patrick perform on stage many times—including his tour-de-force one-person show The Christmas Carol—I had only seen McKellan once, playing a minor role in The Cherry Orchard at UCLA a few years ago. Karen and I were excited to see both of them on the same stage.

We arrived in Oakland by 10:30AM in hopes of strolling through UC Berkeley’s renowned Botanical Garden; but by the time we took the shuttle to the BART station, and then the BART to Berkeley, we barely had time for lunch before the 2PM show. We were in our seats by 1:30PM. Coincidentally, the two women sitting next to us were also from L.A., proving once again that the world is very small.

Waving outside Gather, where we had a lovely lunch

“Are you here to see Patrick?” I asked the women, suspecting that they, too, were Trekkies.

“Yes,” one of them confessed. “What are the odds that we’d be sitting next to the only other Trekkies in the audience!”

“Oh, we’re not the only Trekkies here,” I joked, looking around. “I think we’re all just on our best behavior because it's the Berkeley Rep!”

Indeed, Karen noticed a sign in the lobby admonishing that “should they be available for autographs, [the cast] will only sign material related to No Man’s Land.” In other words, no signing Star Trek photos, copies of The Hobbit or X-Men comicbooks!

Harold Pinter, whose work I haven’t read or even seen since college, can be a hard nut to crack, so it was no wonder we left the theater with more questions than when we went in. Still, the play was highly entertaining and extremely well acted. Patrick was especially good in the second act during a long—and hilarious—monologue about his (real? imagined?) youthful sexual exploits. Crudup and Hensley were also very good, though they played supporting roles to the main actors. The true marvel, however, was Ian McKellan, who completely embodied his character: an old down-on-his-luck poet who is trying to ingratiate himself to his former rival, Patrick. As much as we love Patrick Stewart, Karen and I both agreed that Ian McKellan was absolutely amazing. We are so glad we got to see him perform.

From Berkeley, the play is traveling to NYC, where all four actors will perform it on Broadway, starting October 31. 

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