In an interview from 1964*, Louis Malle spoke about being a part of the French New Wave, saying that "The good fortune that the directors of the new wave had is this: they made their first films the way others write their first novels, injecting into it the sincerity and emotional power of youth...the problem is to create the second or third films, and then a body of work." Malle himself did create a beautiful body of work, shifting and evolving from film to film, some of the later ones building on an idea first touched on in an earlier work.
The idea of developing a body of work after an explosive starting point of the first work has stayed with me since I first watched this interview, and echoes in my mind with each Harold Pinter reading I attend. This is what I am most grateful to Frank Corrado and the Central Heating Lab at ACT Theatre for providing: the opportunity to see a body of work unfold before me, making connections in my mind even as I enjoy them as individual plays.
First we see John Aylward and R. Hamilton Wright in The Dumbwaiter, which is alternately hilarious and menacing as two assassins await their assignment in a basement room. It owes much to Waiting for Godot, and Laurel and Hardy, the comedic pull between two men, and in this case the chemistry between Aylward and Wright, conveyed by a mere sideways glance or fierce glare. Unlike the Pinter plays that twist and invert our sense of time, it moves in a logical progression: prologue, dialogue, anticipation, suspense, climax, ending. Wright loses his shit, as he always does (I can't put it any other way, and nobody does it better). It is a little like The Room, Pinter's first play, with the same shifting sense of laughter and fear.
The second play is actually a radio play from the early 1980's, Family Voices, and while equally hilarious, it is actually more emotionally devastating, when you consider that it was written at the end of a personally turbulent time in Pinter's life; he had divorced his first wife, who was falling apart (not long afterward, she died of alcoholism), and married his second wife. In the process he became estranged from his only child, a son, which was echoed in Moonlight, a decade later. A mother, a father, and a son read their letters to each other aloud. But are the letters real or imaginary? It is funny, as only Pinter can be funny, but beneath the humor is a bleak expanse of emptiness, of distance, the kind of distance that you only see between a parent and child, and it is heartbreaking.
I thought again, looking at the faces of these actors I have loved and admired for nearly twenty years, R. Hamilton Wright and John Aylward and Clayton Corzatte and, of course, Frank Corrado, how lucky Seattle is to have this kind of theater community. How lucky I was to grow up with it. How glad I am that it is still going. A new generation of actors is continuously emerging, but the previous one more than matches them, their polished experience standing ground against this new wave. This year I chose to support two theaters: ACT, with a monthly membership that allows me to watch pretty much everything, and Strawberry Workshop, whose next works I look forward to even before the lights fall at the end of the play. I hope to do more, in the future.
*This interview with Louis Malle is included on the Criterion Collection edition of Les Amants.