Opening with a furious minute-long blast of grinding hardcore punk and ending 45 minutes later with a brutal punch line, Killing Joke Production's One for the Road ramps up the discomfort to high levels. Fueled by a gripping, frightening performance by Charles Hubbell as Nicolas, the one-act takes us into one of Harold Pinter's darkest worlds, where the usual psychological danger is magnified by the constant threat of violence and torture.
Set in a nameless facility in a nameless, totalitarian state, One for the Road centers on Nicolas's interrogations of a family: father Victor (Lijesh Krishnan), mother Gila (Ariel Pinkerton), and young son Nicky (Morgan Guinta). In each of the play's four scenes, Nicolas "chats" with one of them at a time. The family is silent and ragged. Though the actors don't show any physical signs, it's clear they've been tortured.
The reason is never explained—nor should it be, really. Pinter is playing with themes that guided much of his writing, especially ones about power and submission. Except that there's no hope at all for a reversal of the situation here, and the characters know it. Unless there is a regime change, Nicolas is in charge and will remain in charge over an endless parade of Victors, Gilas, and Nickys.
Hubbell's sharp, gaunt features turn Nicolas into a specter of death, with a constant menace in his voice and body language, even while trying to be cordial with his victims. Pinter didn't give the other characters much to do, with poor Krishnan largely silent during his two scenes.
Hubbell is certainly up to the heavy lifting the play requires, staying precise and in control, from the opening minutes as he arranges every element of the stage to his liking for the first interview, down to putting the chair in the exact position he wants and lining up his pens, to the play's final moment.
While Victor provides no resistance at all, Nicky and Gila still have some fire burning in them. This gives the play some spark missing from the first interrogation, especially in the way Pinkerton tries to keep her character's heart and soul intact, even though she is on the brink of destruction. Those minutes between her and Hubbell are the best here—a dynamic, subtle interplay that pushes the tension to the point where the audience is dying for some kind of release, but one that never comes.