A taut, riveting tale of a homeless man and two brothers who give him shelter, The Caretaker is a gripping night of provocative theater. A psychological study of power, allegiance, innocence and corruption, it draws the audience into a compelling and mysterious world, where an unsettling and ever-shifting struggle plays out amidst a strange domestic scenario within the walls of a “home” that is as threatening as it is fragile.
Bonnie J. Monte has directed The Caretaker with a tight grip on the pace of the action so that it smolders for most of the play ... until it explodes. Sarah Beth Hall’s dreary set (top) is the perfect canvas on which the plot unfolds: as decrepit as Davies, as confused as Aston, it’s a mish-mosh of cast-off stuff—appliances, luggage and lumber—mirroring the cast-off souls who live there. Matthew Adelson’s atmospheric lighting and Karin Graybash’s sound (that dripping water!) really enhance the depressed, hopeless mood. And Monte’s costumes suit each character very well, from Davies’ taped-together shoes and ratty suit to Aston’s boyish cap to Mick’s dude-like leather jacket. And dialect coach Julie Foh is to be commended for getting the actors to speak in convincing Cockney (Mick), British (Aston) and Welsh (Davies) accents.
So, what’s the meaning of the title? Well, separately, both brothers offer Davies the position of building caretaker, which he declines. And while Mick may not want to be the caretaker for his disabled brother, he steps up when Davies calls Aston a “nutjob.” Thus, inadvertently, Davies acts as a “caretaker” who brings the two brothers closer together by the end of the play.
That event highlights one of the play’s important themes: family relationships. Other themes include isolation, physical, emotional and mental; the inability of people to communicate with each other because of their own insecurities and concerns; and, perhaps most importantly, the characters’ proclivity for deceiving others and themselves. And this, of course, echoes the problem of identity that has concerned dramatists since the beginning of theater.
Brilliantly acted, tautly directed and beautifully staged, The Caretaker is a worthy addition to the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s 60th Anniversary Season. Although production was planned before COVID-19 hit, its themes have been made even more relevant by the pandemic’s social distancing and isolating, disorienting lockdowns. Written in 1959, The Caretaker continues to speak to us today, even as do Sophocles, Shakespeare, Arthur Miller!