Pinter’s second full-length play, The Caretaker, opened in London in 1960 and, after a twelve-month run, moved to Broadway, where it was acclaimed as a critical, if not commercial, success. The Caretaker has been described as Pinter’s most naturalistic play. The British theater critic Kenneth Tynan called it “a play about people,” which, in Pinter’s case, marked a significant turn in his approach to theater. His early work, such as The Room (1957) and The Dumb Waiter (1959), was laden with symbolism and was heavily influenced by the absurdist theater of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and Russian-born French playwright Eugène Ionesco. In The Caretaker, however, Pinter eschews latent meanings and focuses instead on the lives of the three characters, presenting the action realistically and in a naturalistic fashion. The setting, a cluttered room, has no overt symbolic significance. It is, as is often the case in Pinter’s plays, a realistic vision of isolation and withdrawal. Nor does Pinter force any allegorical message into the story. The characters are readily identifiable as local people in ordinary circumstances.
Nevertheless, the play is anything but conventional. The characters seem unfinished, indeterminate, with no stable, verifiable stake in life. Davies, an inveterate liar, claims he has “papers” in Sidcup that will establish his identity, but it is never made clear exactly who he is, where he has been, or what the papers in Sidcup would prove. Aston, the benevolent brother who befriends Davies, recites a poetic soliloquy that describes his incarceration and treatment in a mental institution, but why he was committed is never established. He says only that, at some point in his life,...
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