Monday, October 24, 2011

theatre notes. Pinter Fortnightly.

It's the second time I've seen Moonlight, now. The first time was at my first Pinter Fortnightly reading, a little over two years ago. A little over two years and perhaps a dozen plays later, and I have come full circle. The audience has tripled, and the series has moved down into the intimacy of the Bullitt Cabaret, with proper lighting and a better arrangement of seats. I see a lot of familiar faces, ardent fans who come to nearly every reading. Billie Wildrick, who was so lovely in Betrayal, is here, and Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, who was perfectly hilarious as the waiter that same play (his day job is being the managing director of ACT).

The cast is different this time, save for Frank Corrado, who plays Andy, and Michael Winters, who plays Ralph. Kathleen Chalfant is Andy's wife, Bel; she's flown out from New York to participate, and she gives Bel a kind of unnerving deep serenity, with her beautifully calm face and black-velvet voice. I'm glad to see Suzy Hunt, who has a wide, curling, amused mouth which gives Maria a sort of sensuous humor, and Darragh Kennan and Josh Carter as Bel and Andy's sons, slip easily into the swift rhythm of banter that only happens between siblings who have created a language all their own. The heart of the play is Jessica Martin, who plays Andy and Bel's daughter, Bridget, whose death seems to have split her family into two halves - her parents on one side, her brothers on the other, each locked into their own world.

It goes without saying that Moonlight has its moments of hilarity (lots of them). But still, it's a heartbreaking play, especially once you know that Pinter was completely estranged from his only son. (I said this already, last time). During the discussion afterwards, someone says something to the effect that Pinter never talked about this sadness, this void, but I think of this play as his way of addressing the loss. His former wife, his son's mother, had died from alcoholism; Pinter had remarried and gained six step-children which surrounded him with a new family. I wonder if at the time of writing (1993 or thereabouts) Pinter had already accepted that he would never see his son again; perhaps this was his way of achieving a kind of peace. Certainly Andy never makes peace with his sons, who can't or won't come to his deathbed, nor the nonexistent grandchildren which his dead daughter might have had, if she'd lived. Bel does, though, calling her sons and cutting short their verbal games. I think of it as a way of saying good-bye.

What I love here is the language of Bel and Andy's exchanges, the deep understanding between two people who have known each other for a long time. Who have been married for a long time. Who know all the places to hit where it hurts and who also know how to step aside and avoid the blows. A marriage and a family are two separate things; this is sometimes hard to see and even harder to understand, and Moonlight is about that dance between the two. I love it more this time, after two years and a dozen plays. I could see it again and again, and find something new.

After the play, I go up to tell Michael Winters that I've loved his work since Shadowlands. "But you must have been a wee child at the time!" he says. He is warm and funny, like all the other actors I have accosted over the past year, and I am reminded again of how important it is to go up to people you have loved for a long time and tell them, thank you, thank you, thank you.

ACT and Pinter Fortnightly.

Monday, October 10, 2011

theatre notes. Betrayal.

Betrayal was the first play I'd ever seen by Harold Pinter. It was 1995 at Intiman Theatre; it's the play I associate most with Frank Corrado, even though I've seen him in many other performances over the past nineteen years. It's the play most associated with Harold Pinter, too, his most widely-performed one, the one considered the most "accessible." (This is said with some disgust by Corrado during the post-play discussion tonight). Placed in the context of the other fourteen or so works I've seen in the three years since the Pinter Fortnightly readings began, it still holds strong. I love it as much as I did when I was fifteen years old, maybe more. It's funnier, this time around, but I don't know if that's the actors, the director, or the intimacy between the stage and the audience, that electric bit of chemistry which makes a great play extraordinary.

Betrayal plays with time, moving backwards. It starts after the end of an affair, and takes you back to the beginning. Robert and Jerry are best friends. Emma is married to Robert, and has a seven-year affair with Jerry, who is married to Judith, who is spoken of but not seen. Their affair is one betrayal; Robert's knowledge of the affair is another betrayal, because he doesn't tell Jerry that he knows until much later in time (but earlier in the play). Emma's pregnancy is, too, a betrayal of Jerry, even if the father of her child happens to be her husband. Other betrayals are hinted at, too, those of Robert and Jerry betraying their younger, idealistic selves as they pursue their careers, one as a publisher, and the other as a literary agent, Jerry's wife Judith perhaps betraying him as he is her. Each moment explored illuminates the previous one, stripping away the shells of disillusionment which forced apart these people who were once young and happy, who once loved each other. In the last scene, Jerry drunkenly declares his love for Emma at a party, interrupted by Robert, who leaves them together. Is that when their affair began? Was it something inevitable, something that would have happened anyway, sooner or later? We'll never know for sure.

Now, more than ever, three years and fourteen plays later, or rather, sixteen years later, I can see more clearly how unique Pinter's voice is. He has this way of creating characters who always know where to hit each other where it will hurt with just a few devastating words, with a kind of dialogue of one-upmanship which pops up here and there in so many of his works. It is both emotionally shattering and shatteringly hilarious, and I am reminded for the hundredth time of Simon Callow's comment that "being English is inherently funny."* It is not fair to Pinter's body of work to call Betrayal "more accessible," but at the same time it is not fair to deride it, either. There is something pure about it; there are undercurrents and mysteries and things left unsaid, but it is, on the whole, a more open work than, say, The Room, or The Birthday Party, or Ashes to Ashes, when you aren't quite sure what the hell just happened. I could see it again, and learn something new.

There's so much more left to explore. I can't bloody wait.

Pinter Fortnightly, at ACT.

*This is from the commentary soundtrack from A Room with a View, 1985.