Monday, February 08, 2010

Pinter, again. (more thoughts).

It struck me early on in Ashes to Ashes that one thing Pinter understands more than anyone is how people know each other so well, as siblings (in Moonlight and, in a way, in A Kind of Alaska) or friends, lovers and spouses (Betrayal and Ashes to Ashes, and Moonlight as well). You know the other person's weak points, what gets under their skin, how to hit them where it will hurt most. That is the uncomfortable part of watching his plays, catching people when their defenses are down, when their innermost feelings and thoughts are dragged out, laid bare. There's something real happening on stage, something you see in yourself or in others, things you have done to people you love or that they have done to you. That kind of savage honesty became clear to me with the first time I saw Pinter onstage, in a 1995 production of Betrayal, and has stayed with me ever since.

After yesterday's performance of A Kind of Alaska and Ashes to Ashes the director, Victor Pappas, made a comment about the evolution of regional theater, beginning as a repertory of actors and growing into something quite different. After 18 years of theater-going in Seattle I've come to think of the local theater scene as almost a repertory of local actors, some of whom have been fighting the good fight in the name of art for more than twenty or thirty years. What then develops between these wonderful actors is an intimacy, a rapport, an emotional chemistry that communicates itself in a level of trust onstage that could never happen in three weeks of rehearsals between perfect strangers. The kind of brutally emotional honesty that Pinter demands needs that kind of trust, that tenderness which keeps his lacerating truths from becoming unbearable. This is what I love most about Pinter, that clarity, that sharpness, just softened by a touch, a wry twist of the mouth that is almost a smile.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pinter x 2.

I had been eagerly awaiting Shadow and Light Theatre's production of two one-act plays by Harold Pinter since I first heard about them a few months ago. Last summer there had been a series of readings of Pinter one-acts, and I was lucky to catch the last one, Moonlight. It brought together some of my favorite actors from the 18 years I have spent in Seattle theaters, and reminded me all over again of the starkly, emotionally devastating beauty of Pinter. It was the first time I had seen Pinter performed since Betrayal, at Intiman Theatre in 1995, which remains one of my most enduring theatrical experiences.

A Kind of Alaska and Ashes to Ashes brought together the director (Victor Pappas) and one of the actors (Frank Corrado) from that 1995 production of Betrayal, and added one of my most favorite actresses since the very first play I ever saw at ACT (Suzanne Bouchard), as well as Kimberly King, who played the title role in the play which was solely responsible for bringing me back to ACT after nearly a decade's absence (Becky's New Car, by Steven Dietz, 2008). Corrado, Pappas, and Bouchard are the three founders of Shadow and Light Theatre, a new company devoted to the works of Harold Pinter. The energy and passion of Mr. Corrado (the Pinter Fortnightly series was his creation) and Ms. Bouchard that was so apparent in the Moonlight reading last summer crystallized into two polished gems of plays, in the intimacy of ACT's smallest theater, the 92-seat Bullitt Cabaret.

Pinter is about memory; it is the common thread that twists through the four works I have seen so far. In Betrayal, it is about a friendship, a marriage, and an affair, unraveling backwards in time. Moonlight is about grief, jumping back and forth from past to present as its characters deal with a past loss and an impending one, the death of a daughter (past) and father/husband (future). In A Kind of Alaska, a woman awakes after 29 years asleep, and she, her sister, and her doctor each struggle with all they have lost with those years. And Ashes to Ashes turns a husband's questions about a wife's former lover into a game where the landscape of memory remains murky and shadowed, shifting like mountains of sand that give you no solid footing.

The thing about Pinter is that the beauty of the language is balanced by the brutality of the emotions they convey, that the sharpness of every word that the characters throw at each other, like knives, is leavened by an unexpected tenderness, that the bleakness that wraps around the stage like a dark cloud is lifted by jolts of black humor. I walk away feeling drained and confused and yet thrilled by what I have seen. I look forward to more with the greediness of a small child who tastes something wonderful for the very first time.