Hudson Theatre Works challenges audiences

Harold Pinter's 'The Caretaker' resonates today

The latest Hudson Theatre Works production has taken the stage at Woodrow Wilson School in Weehawken. The nonprofit performing arts group presents Harold Pinter’s 1960 play, “The Caretaker.” Performances will continue until March 10.

The play is “a powerful exploration of control, social class, and the human condition,” said Director Frank Licato.

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It depicts an aging, impoverished man named Davies, who is given shelter by two brothers, Aston and Mick. Davies undertakes a caretaker role within the flat prompting the two brothers to plot against him. But Davies retaliates. The characters indulge in manipulations, shifting loyalties, and power struggles in a story that leads to astute and comic observations about human nature, still applicable today.

A renowned ensemble

Cast and crew have received numerous awards and have performed in several off-Broadway productions.

Davies is played by Licato, a founding member of the company who is also directing the production. He’s been acting for more than 30 years, and has been the company’s artistic director since its inception.

Aston is played by Todd Hilsee, another founding member of the company. He appeared in the company’s productions of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and Erin Mallon’s “Stubble.”

Mick is played by Tom Althouse, Hilsee’s cousin. This will be his debut performance with Hudson Theatre Works. He’s toured internationally as both a writer and an actor, garnering awards along the way including the Hoku Award for Best Actor in the Maui Fringe Festival.

The assistant director is Joanne Hoersch; the stage manager is Dawn M. D’arrigo. Costumes are by Ann Lowe; music and sound by Donald Stark; lighting by David M. Fillmore Jr., and film sequences by Harrison Stengel.

Keen observations

Why “The Caretaker?”

“It’s the language,” Licato said. “Pinter’s language is so precise and so interesting, and, in a less surface-level way the language is also very contemporary and reflects contemporary life. The people in the play are struggling to make contact, and it’s difficult for them to say what they mean, and so it creates this kind of tension between all the characters.”

“A powerful exploration of control, social class, and the human condition.” – Frank Licato

The play has resonance today.

“A lot of cultural cues, and social media are pushing us apart,” Licato said. “This play’s very contemporary. It’s almost preternaturally scary.”

Pinter wrote the play while living in England in a post-World War II milieu. An influx of immigration raised ethical questions quite similar to those that exist today.

“Pinter fits the bill,” Licato said. “There’s a lot in it that resonates with what’s going on with immigrants and the idea of racism’s nature, and pitting the people around you against each other.”

Hudson Theatre Works aims to spark debate.

“We choose the plays we choose because we’re, for the most part, interested in challenging an audience,” Licato said. “We’re trying to get people who want to be intellectually and emotionally challenged to come out of the show asking questions about the nature of who we are.”

But there is comic relief. The play has its lighthearted moments, thanks to the oddball characters and how they relate to each other.

“There’s a lot in it that resonates with what’s going on with immigrants and the idea of racism’s nature, and pitting the people around you against each other.”– Frank Licato

Settling in

The production company was a peripatetic enterprise before finding a home at the Woodrow Wilson School’s stage. Licato said that the partnership with the town has been a huge asset for dramatic arts in Hudson County. Its first production in town was last year’s “Macbeth.”

“At a production we did about five years ago of ‘Of Mice and Men,’ we were starting out at the Park Performing Arts Center in Union City,” Licato said. “Mayor Turner came and saw it. I’d lived it Weehawken for a while so I knew him. He thought it was great, and asked ‘Do you want to come to Weehawken?’ We had a series of performances inside the Water Tower, and had play readings there.”

Licato said that although weather limited accessibility for productions in the massive historical landmark, the Weehawken Water Tower productions garnered some Best Play of the Year awards for the company.

The company has gone on to produce original, award-winning plays that have gotten international recognition.

The ensemble aims to continue providing Broadway-quality performances at affordable prices at its new home in the Woodrow Wilson School. Tickets are available by calling 800-838-3006 or by visiting hudsontheatreworks.brownpapertickets.com.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.

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