Monday, June 15, 2009

Pinter Fortnightly.

Some weeks ago I became aware that ACT hosted a twice-monthly reading of Harold Pinter plays. It seemed interesting, but I never actually made it downtown until the very last reading. Two of my most favorite actors - Michael Winters and Suzanne Bouchard - would be participating, and several others I was familiar with. And, it was the last one. I had to go. I ran into the theater, and guided by someone in the lobby headed towards the Buster's Special Events Room, a long, airy space with gilded chandeliers and rows of chairs. About thirty or forty people were there, students and theater-lovers and a few familiar faces that turned out to be other actors I have seen onstage here and there, during the sixteen-odd years I have been experiencing theater in Seattle.

Frank Corrado - who I am also long familiar with - takes the stage, and it immediately becomes clear that these Pinter readings are his passion, that it is his energy and drive that brings these fortnightly occasions together. Such is the community of actors in Seattle that he has pulled other longtime friends and colleagues in on their night off - Matthew Boston has two more nights of A Thousand Clowns to go - to join in. Can you imagine loving your work, your art, so much that you want to do it on your day off? The actors take their seats, all familiar faces to me, even if I can't quite place two of them, and the play begins. Tonight's work is Moonlight, one of Pinter's last plays, about a dying man, his wife, and his estranged sons, haunted by the memory of a long-dead daughter. Without staging and props I must confess I get confused at times, and have trouble following along.

But it is a fascinating play, biting and sarcastic, unexpectedly gentle, using commonplace cliché to mask deeper emotions. It is funny and sharp, exactly what I expect from Pinter, and heartbreaking, too, even if you didn't know that Pinter was estranged from his own son. And seeing the actors I have loved since childhood up close and in person is so exciting I bounce a little in my seat, find myself sitting up a little taller. What makes it all so exciting is the energy between the actors and the audience, many of whom seem to be old friends. As long as there are people like this, actors with enough passion and love for their work, and theater-goers who appreciate it, then the theater will survive. It will grow. It must.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Theater night. Intiman.

Still high off the hilarity of Below the Belt the night before, I head down to Intiman for A Thousand Clowns. The usher warns me that the play is almost three hours long, but then the lights go down and the laughs begin, and the time slips by. The center of the play is Murray Burns, a grumpy, curmudgeonly iconoclast who quit his job working for a children's television show and yells at his neighbors and plans trips to the Statue of Liberty. That he hates the world is obvious; equally obvious is his love for his nephew, Nick, who lives with him in a one-room apartment but spends the night with a neighbor whenever Murray has to "work." Your "work" left behind her gloves, points out Nick in the morning.

Reality crashes in when two social workers come to inspect their living situation and decide whether Murray is an acceptable guardian for his nephew. Murray confounds their every question, their every examination into his and Nick's life, until the investigation ends somewhat explosively, with the male half of the couple leaving, the female half staying...ending in one of the most hilarious mornings-after I have ever seen (with a rendition of "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" involving both uncle and nephew on ukeleles somewhere in between).

Beneath the humor there is still a burning anger that causes Murray to rage against everything, everyone, makes him yell at his neighbors from the open window. He can't make allowances, he can't make the changes that will help him keep Nick from being taken away. He can't force himself to accept a job, any job, especially not his old job writing jokes for a desperately unfunny man who has a children's show in which he performs while costumed as a giant squirrel dressed as a clown. (It is terrifying). He can't accept Sandra, the social worker, as a steady presence in his life, while she redecorates his one-room apartment with flowers and cushions and purple curtains. He can't be what Nick needs him to be, because that means that he would have to change, to grow up, to compromise. He can't. Or can he? Can any of us?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Theater Night. ACT.

From my seat all I could see was the back of R. Hamilton Wright, and I recognized him immediately - the shape of his head, the tilt of his shoulders. He is older, now, of course, but then so am I. The Revenger's Comedies was back in 1992, the very first play I ever saw at ACT, as a sixth-grader. Now it is 2009 and I am at the theater on my own, glad that I made the choice to go for season tickets, glad that I have a reason to head out one Tuesday night a month and go to the theater. I make my way through the parking garage and down the silent escalators of the Convention Center to the passageway that leads to one of my favorite theaters. ACT stands for A Contemporary Theater, and most of its works are modern plays, or modern interpretations of classic plays, such as a Tennessee Williams reworking of Chekov, or a twenty-first-century adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, last month's play.

Below the Belt is about three men marooned in the company compound of an unnamed corporation who produces parts for something - we aren't told what - in some far-off corner of the world, which is unidentified. Certainly it is some part of the world which requires Americans to live and work in a walled "compound" patrolled by armed guards to protect them from whatever is beyond those walls. Two of the men - R. Hamilton Wright and Judd Hirsch - are inspectors, and a third man, John Procaccino, who is their boss. It is brutally funny - for all that we say that women are cruel to each other, men are no different, only they do it differently - and nobody loses his shit onstage better than R. Hamilton Wright. I hurt from laughing. The theater is full, and we all hurt from laughing.