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Shakespeare Theatre's "The Caretaker" is a Gem of A Production

By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 10/10/2022

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(MADISON, NJ) -- The Caretaker, by Harold Pinter, is a play about a nobly minded pair of London brothers who take in a homeless man and give him a bed in the bedroom of one, food and a chance at a new life as the caretaker of their house. It is a 1960 play and resonates today because homelessness, no matter where you look, is still a major problem in England, and America. In New York City alone, there are 52,000 homeless people, one of the highest totals in years.

Would you let a homeless man live with you? 

Think about it. There are a lot of good reasons to take him in, but also a lot of worries and problems.

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They are all addressed in The Caretaker, which closed October 9th at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison; a marvelous, powerful production that really makes you think about your own life and how you do and do not act with others not as fortunate as you.

That’s what happened when a homeless man named Jenkins, or Davies, or whatever his real name is, settles in with the brothers and creates a universe of problems.

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First is trust. The homeless guy, in his 60s or 70s, tells the brothers his name is Jenkins. Then he tells them that is not so, that his real name is Davies. He has no clothes, or does he? He was carrying a satchel of clothes when he arrived, but when he opens it up, he discovers they are not his clothes. Whose are they?

He wants to go downtown to a state office to retrieve all of his identification papers, but has no shoes to walk there. One brother, Aston, gets him a pair, but they don’t fit, so he can’t get downtown to retrieve the papers. Convenient, isn’t it?

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He rambles about his skills in fixing up apartments as he surveys the old, broken down bedroom of the broken down house in which he now lives, but it turns out he is not an interior decorator at all.

The two brothers have plenty of problems, too. Mick, the shrewder of the two, is in real estate but, it appears, does not have much success. The other brother, Aston, is in repairs and small construction projects, or something like that, and is not successful and does not do, or want to do, much work. It turns out that he was committed to a hospital years earlier and underwent brain work of some kind that he blames for his listlessness and lack of ambition. The two argue with each other constantly, and while they see helping the homeless man as a good act, they are torn apart by their relationship with him.

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They see him as their “good deed” but the longer he lives with them the bigger the troubles in their relationship with him grow. The longer he is there, too, the more they fight with each other, often sparked by something he says about one to the other. He, himself, is irritated that Aston continually tells him that he smells. He is also irritated that, because he is old and homeless, people see him as stupid. The chance to get out of that world with the brothers eludes him, for the moment. Davies is his own worst enemy. After all of his years of troubles, the chance for a normal life should elude him

The old man complains about everything and does not seem to realize that he is not a brother but a guest. He does not really thank them for what they are doing for him, but tries to, in advertently, split them up.

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Director Bonnie Monte has done an admirable job of showcasing the three men, who are symbolic of many men, and in moving the play along at a fast past without losing any of the deep characterizations playwright Pinter has given the trio.

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The play is about the plight of the homeless, but it is also about the truth. Who is telling it? Who is Davies? Jenkins or Davies? What is his real name and what dd he do for a living? Was Aston really in a hospital and, if he was, did they mess up his brain? Why doesn’t Mick not do well in real estate? Why are none of them married or with a woman? Can’t any turn to family for help? Neighbors? How did the house become so run down?   

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The rundown house is a magnificent creation with old furniture and majestic ceiling high windows (and a leaky roof) by scenic designer Sarah Beth Hall and lighting designer Matthew Adelson. Others in the talented crew are sound designer Karen Graybash, dialect coach Julie Foh,  costume designer Bonnie Monte and stage manager Denise Carderelli.

The actors in the play are just terrific. Jon Barker is Mick, Isaac Hickox-Young is Aston and Paul Mullins portrays the homeless man wonderfully with both sadness and triumph – and a deep desire to discover what on earth is going to happen to him. The Caretaker, beautifully written by Pinter, is a study of homeless men in London, but they could live anywhere. And do.

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The last minute or so of the play is one of the most powerful in all the plays I have seen over the years. Traumatic, too. What is going to happen next, to him, and to all of us? What is the answer to the problem on the homeless in London, New York? New Jersey?

Governments, churches and social organizations have tried to solve homelessness for decades, centuries, and not done a very good job.

If there is no answer, God help us all.

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Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he served as the arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a Ph. D in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on U.S. history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.



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