Tuesday, June 28, 2011

theatre notes. Pinter Fortnightly.

I've been to a lot of these Pinter Fortnightly events, now. There have been one-acts and sketches and radio works and full-length plays, fitting themselves together into a Pinterian universe that can't be described, only experienced. It's shocking how prolific Harold Pinter was, with not a dull work amongst the dozens he created. The necessary ingredient, of course, is the passion and skill of the actors who gather together for these readings. They have an afternoon's rehearsal, that's all. What makes it work, every damn time, is the physical and emotional chemistry and sense of timing of a group of people who know each other, who have worked together, sometimes for decades, even if they've never done Pinter before. There is trust, between the actors and also between them and the audience. We're all excited to be here, and it shows.

Tonight's reading is of The Birthday Party, Pinter's first full-length play. Savaged by the critics upon opening, it was eventually considered a classic. The alternating humor and menace of this work is echoed in the later plays of this era, The Room, for example, and The Dumbwaiter. Apparently Pinter loved Abbott and Costello, and there is a lot of sharply funny verbal comedy. (Perhaps there is physical comedy, too, but that's hard to convey in a reading). The ambiguity and obfuscation of the language remains a hallmark of Pinter's work throughout his career. As so often happens, the play ends with me wondering what the fuck just happened, but I find it thrilling all the same.

Even more thrilling is seeing R. Hamilton Wright, whom I have loved since The Revenger's Comedies in 1992. Frequently seen playing someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or actually having one in The Prisoner of 2nd Avenue last month), it is a real charge to see him as one of Pinter's more suavely menacing characters, both in The Birthday Party and also in last year's The Dumbwaiter. Every one of the actors (and Frank Corrado, who directed and gives the stage directions) is familiar to me, Wright most of all. I have seen them in all kinds of plays, over and over, and when I leave the theatre I feel that fierce gladness which never goes away, that gratitude that they love what they do so much that they do this for the fun of it. To learn something. To steep themselves in Pinter's language, for just one afternoon, one night. At first they did this for free, but I think now they get paid a little something.

I'll miss the next two Pinter Fortnightly performances, unfortunately, but I hope to make it to the next round come fall.


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