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Playwright Harold Pinter keeps things just vague enough to be intriguing. In plays like The Caretaker, currently showing at Theatre in the Square, he puts enigmatic characters in ominous predicaments and keeps explanations locked up tight. Pinter leaves his work open to numerous interpretations, so the audience can throw their own ideas at the play, and nine times out of 10, they'll stick. You can enjoy Theatre in the Square's The Caretaker for its sense of dread and morbid jokes, or go prospecting for deeper implications.

Aston (Hugh Adams), an unassuming Good Samaritan, gives shelter to Davies (David Milford), a quarrelsome homeless man. They share a small room littered with junk, and as Aston fiddles fruitlessly with broken appliances, Davies' non-stop chatter reveals himself to be a lying, complaining bigot, eager to wring every little bit of advantage out of the situation. Despite Davies' poverty and age, Milford gives a performance completely free of pathos, likable only as a comic foil.

Pinter has a special fondness for characters who screw with the heads of others, and here it's Aston's younger brother Mick (Brandon O'Dell) who delights in teasing Davies with mind games. With superb timing, O'Dell gives Mick's every line an icing of insincerity, being as sweet as pie to the old man, then turning on him savagely. Nevertheless, Davies tries to ingratiate himself with Mick at the expense of Aston, who emerges as the sole sympathetic figure, Adams' deadpan, rueful presence concealing an innocent faith in others.

Question marks conspicuously hang from The Caretaker: What are we to make of Aston's prized Buddha statue? Or the sinister drip-drip-drip from the ceiling? With its "tramp" role, concern for footwear and occasional slapstick, the play has parallels to Waiting for Godot, which director John Stephens may be highlighting with dropped-pants gags and a cruciform shadow on a wall. If the Samuel Beckett play is a bittersweet tragedy of dispossessed men denied charity, The Caretaker forcefully comes across as a dark comedy in which the poor bite the hands that feed them and don't deserve the charity they get.

And that's just one of the ways to look at The Caretaker.

The Caretaker plays through Nov. 10 at Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. Tues.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays. $22-$30. 770-422-8369.


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