Sunday, November 13, 2011

theatre notes. Pinter Fortnightly.

I've seen about sixteen or seventeen plays and sketches by Harold Pinter, now. Two of them I've seen twice - Betrayal (in 1995 and then last month) and Moonlight (in 2009 and then a few weeks ago), and I feel that I could see any of the plays again, each time discovering more. There are recurring motifs, clear from the beginning of Pinter's body of work - a distinct rhythm, a way of repeating words, the use of cricket terms I've never understood. Then there are those eloquent "pauses" that have probably driven many a director to madness. Pinter has his own language, a certain cadence, emphasized for me by seeing many of the same actors in the Fortnightly readings.

This reading of No Man's Land is a little different than all the others. It's more of a workshop, in preparation for the Pinter festival next summer. Theatre director Penny Cherns has come from London to put the actors through their paces, and they've had a week ("24 hours," they tell us) to rehearse instead of the usual single afternoon. There's an actual set, sort of. One of the four actors has come in from Denver to join the cast, and it brings a different energy to the stage. The other three are from Seattle, and I'm familiar with all of them, Frank Corrado most of all. As with many of Pinter's plays, No Man's Land starts out conventionally enough, then sharply veers into a game of wits that is more about language and power than it is about any clear plot. It is a tapestry, a crazy-quilt, patching together Noël-Coward-esque barbs and Laurel-and-Hardy verbal jousts with some deviations into Beckett, reflecting Pinter's own earlier plays and crystallizing into the work of someone at the height of his powers.

I was thinking about Betrayal, how it has been referred to as one of Pinter's most "accessible" plays. It's simpler, to be sure, at least on the surface, and though time is shattered and shifted out of sequence, it is one of his rare plays that has a clearly delineated story line. No Man's Land doesn't, even though time progresses in an orderly fashion. I think it was Penny Cherns who tells us in the post-play discussion that Pinter often started with an image, a memory, or a phrase, and wrote the play around it. There isn't so much a story as the emotions that run beneath the words, which stand out like trees emerging from fog. Here, in No Man's Land, there is the writer's fear of growing old, of being alone, of losing one's grip on fading powers (no chance of that with Pinter, who seemed to intensify with age). The struggle between the characters is almost like a raging against the inevitably fading light...

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