Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Passion of Frank Corrado.

I am a few minutes early for this week's Pinter Fortnightly reading; the room is still half-empty. There seem to be more chairs, this time. The stage runs parallel to one long side of the room instead of sitting squarely at the end. There are more props; chairs and round café tables with bottles of wine and mineral water. The actors are milling about, disappearing and reappearing behind a partition at the end of the room, and I wonder (not for the first time) just what exactly is back there and how many people could possibly fit in what cannot be a very large space. I chat with an elderly lady who agrees with me: we are lucky to have a theater community as rich and intimate as this one. I tell her I grew up in this town, with these actors. The room fills with more theater-lovers, and we begin.

At the heart of it all is Frank Corrado (who reads the stage directions in a voice that can only be described as "mellifluous"), whose passion for Harold Pinter is what brought us all here tonight, has been bringing us all together over a series of readings that began last summer, and, I hope, will continue. Bit by bit, with each play, the separate pieces of Pinter's ouevre have been assembling themselves in my mind into one cohesive body of work, anchored by the now fifteen-year-old memory of Betrayal, which I saw at Intiman in 1995. Pinter's last play, The Celebration, is entirely different, and yet not. It is pure comedy, but with that occasional sharp jab that Pinter does so well, those verbal spears that people stick in all those places they know will hurt you the most.

In The Celebration (which Pinter wrote after a disastrous restaurant dinner), two tables of diners are having dinner in a posh London restaurant. Their raucous conversation grows progressively rowdier as the evening goes on, interrupted intermittently by a historically (and hysterically) name-dropping waiter, an imperturbable maître 'd, and an emotionally oversharing maîtresse 'd. As an audience, we grow progressively rowdier to match the verbal antics onstage, whooping and laughing along. The energy in the room is something else. We are a community of theater lovers, of Pinter-lovers. The actors are enjoying themselves as much as we are, and I am wiping away tears (of laughter).

A series of three short sketches follows, each funnier than the next, each depending on that complex mastery of inflection, expression, and timing that breathes life into comedy. We roar with laughter at the innuendo of Trouble in the Works, howl at the painful job interview in Applicant, and explode when Frank Corrado and Kurt Beattie end things with the hysterical Victoria Station. Again and again I am blown away by the chemistry between the actors, their ability to hit upon that comedic alchemy that is all the more extraordinary given that they are reading from a script, having had almost no time at all to rehearse.

The pure, electric excitement of being in the theater is like nothing else.

There is one more reading scheduled for the Pinter Fortnightly series. I won't be here, unfortunately, but I know it will be as wonderful as all the others have been.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Last week the gardener/writer Elspeth Thompson died, at the too-young age of 48. She was a wonderful writer, with a gift for seeing beauty and possibility in everything. Everything she touched was transformed into something extraordinary. Her blog chronicled her rehabilitation of two dilapidated Victorian railway carriages on the coast of Sussex into a cozy, charming home nestled into a Paradise-like garden. Elspeth's latest project was about "gardening against the odds," creating glorious Edens in the most unlikely of places, in tiny London balconies or in the barren soil of her own seaside garden.

Elspeth often wrote about fragrant white flowers; in the wintertime she had vessels of narcissus bulbs everywhere, and one of the photographs from her last post showed pots of blooming hyacinths, one of my favorite flowers. Earlier today I walked to Marigold & Mint, a new flower shop several blocks away, and returned with my arms full of sweet-scented hyacinths and heirloom daffodils, as well as a stalk of flowering rhubarb and a bundle of pink jasmine. At least I think it’s pink jasmine. These flowers are for Elspeth.

I don’t know the whole story - most likely I never will - but her obituary tells of a dark depression that descended in recent weeks, and in the end, she took her own life. My heart breaks for her young daughter, and her husband. That someone who looked and sounded so happy, who saw the beautiful in the ordinary, who could conjure up small patches of Paradise in the bleakest of surroundings, could be overcome by such despair that nothing could bring her back from the brink is beyond comprehension. The sadness I feel must be magnified a hundred thousand times for her family.

What I understand now is that the people who rage and storm and speak of their grief, who stand on cliffs and howl at the wind, who write about the black despair that leaves them shaking, unable to get out of bed, these are the people who give you the chance to talk them back into the world of the living. These are the people who are asking for help. Not the ones who slip away silently and leave you with a million questions left unanswered.