Pause and effect

The Revolve Theatre Company, which premiered in Tampa a few months ago with Caryl Churchill's tantalizing Far Away, has now moved to St. Petersburg with an evening of Harold Pinter one-acts called Here's to You, Harold Pinter! The good news is, each of the three plays currently on stage at The [email protected] is provocative and rewarding, and the first and the third are hauntingly original.

Further, two of the featured performers, Jessica Alexander and Meg Heimstead, turn in work so convincing, you'd think they grew up playing the Master of Pause-and-Effect. If Chris Jackson and James Rayfield aren't quite as persuasive, both do impressive work as directors of one play or another (David O'Hara is the third fine director).

The first of the plays is the most baffling and the most resonant. When Ashes to Ashes begins, a male character (played by Jackson) is interrogating a female (Heimstead) about a man who may or may not have been her lover. The Questioner is menacing, relentless, dedicated to understanding the sadomasochistic relationship between the woman and this man, and occasionally calling the female "my darling" and "sweetheart," when it would seem that she's anything but.

We learn bits and pieces of the missing man's life — that when he walked through a factory, all the workers doffed their caps to him, that he may have been implicated in an atrocity involving women and their babies. We also learn that the woman is obsessed with the sound of sirens, and that her memories and those of her inquisitor don't always match.

Heimstead plays the woman's role with a tormented countenance, and with a stubborn refusal to become what the insistent male character wants her to be. Jackson is at his best in the play's opening minutes, but his performance comes to lack the moment-to-moment micromanagement that should have us scrutinizing his every expression. But the play's implication — that beneath "normal" relationships may lurk a dreadful, unspeakable horror — comes through with real force.

The next play, Victoria Station, isn't nearly so portentous. It's a comedy about a cab driver (Jackson) who's contacted by his Controller (a voice over intercom) and told to proceed to Victoria Station, where a certain traveler from Boulogne will be waiting for him. But the driver at first says he's just "cruising," and therefore isn't available, then insists he's never heard of Victoria Station, and later admits to being parked by the "Crystal Palace" (which no longer exists), with a female fare sleeping in the back seat, and romance in the air. Jackson is amusing in this brief piece, but once again doesn't show many colors, though O'Hara's staging is solid (and that offstage Controller can be very funny). After the tense Ashes to Ashes, this play comes as a refreshing relief.

And then finally there's A Kind of Alaska, about Deborah, who after 29 years of sleep comes awake to a changed world. Jessica Alexander plays the lead here, and it may be the best performance she's ever given. With her doctor at her bedside (Rayfield), she has the expectations of a 16-year-old and outdated memories of her family. At first, the doctor tries gently to determine what she experienced during her long slumber; and when that goes nowhere, he attempts to explain to her that she's now a middle-aged woman, only awake thanks to a new serum. When Deborah's sister Pauline arrives — played movingly by Heimstead — Deborah can hardly believe that this grown woman is the child she remembers from yesterday. Alaska is a beautiful drama about time and mystery, and an emotional experience such as Pinter seldom provides.

So welcome back, Revolve. You're just what this area needs.

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