06/20/2013 12:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hollywood Fringe: The Lover , The Complex Theatres, Hollywood

Photo courtesy of James Waterman.

Sarah (Lizzie Prestel) is married to Richard (J.B. Waterman). Their marital arrangements are, um, interesting. He leaves for work with the knowledge that Sarah will entertain her Lover in the afternoon. It's an odd but functional arrangement, sordid but, because they're English, polite: he ensures he won't come home early, she maintains the domestic proprieties. But what if the Lover is not the milkman, John (Bob Kunrat), who comes a-calling, but... Richard?

Harold Pinter's The Lover, directed by Waterman and Dylan Southard at the Complex Theatres in Hollywood, is the story of a couple that, having been married for ten years, decides to spice things up with some role-playing. He leaves and returns as the Lover, she primps herself to receive him as the Whore. We don't know that at first. We're so agog with the arrangement itself that we don't realize, initially, that the Lover and Richard are the same person. Then, before we can get settled with that revelation, the game goes sideways. It's startling that all this can occur in a mere 45 minutes: kudos to Waterman and Southard for the pacing. The three quarters of an hour sped by.

The set is as mundane as the marriage that precipitated the role-playing. The after-image of the Apple laptop with which Sarah fiddles on the sofa creates an appropriate tone: that glowing apple, the Garden of Eden, original sin. Prestel and Waterman are world-weary, passive, not able to muster the energy to put out for each other as husband and wife, but, oh their transformation to Whore and Lover. Prestel exchanges her dreary robe for a little black dress and slinks across the stage like a mongoose, movement which, face it, is far more alluring that plopping down on the sofa like a sloth. Waterman becomes the mongoose's snake, more the masher and less the Bertie Wooster.

The production examines the ways by which married couples stay married. Just because a couple can play-act, can transform themselves into an archetypal Whore and Lover, though, doesn't mean the charade can go on forever. Richard wants dinner; there isn't any. He can't bear the thought that someone else, albeit him, has slept in his house. Even though he's play-acting, Waterman, in the guise of both the Lover and the husband, manages to convey genuine exasperation at the arrangement. He wants the game to end. Sarah doesn't. And, so, it's back to the drawing board.

The characters and their situations require great nuance. Prestel and Waterman deliver. Both play the part of the ho-hum married couple as well as the salacious Whore and Lover with great conviction, if not great passion. Both are so well cast as the married couple that our knowledge that their illicit arrangement is but a game catches us off guard.

But more challenging is for Waterman to express his fatigue with the game and for Prestel to get caught in the crossfire. Is he in the guise of Richard or the Lover? Or both? Does she respond as Sarah or the Whore? Or both? Where's the line that divides their staged and unstaged lives? It's this not knowing that gives "The Lover" its intrigue, that rivets us to our seats wondering what's real and what's not; it's what makes the production feel so damn real. That's not a bad metaphor for marriage, either: together, but not really; playacting, but not really -- the only thing holding it together being the fact that there isn't a real Whore and a real Lover with which Richard and Sarah could seek consolation.

Performances are 11pm, Friday June 21; 11:30pm, Friday June 28; and 11:30pm, Saturday, June 29. Tickets are $12. The Theatre is located at 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard. For more information, visit