Friday, February 24, 2012

theatre notes. Pinter Fortnightly.

How many plays has it been, now? Fifteen? Sixteen? I've lost count. It dazzles me just to think about it, and I didn't even make it to all the Pinter Fortnightly evenings. I've seen enough, though, to have a sense of what makes a body of work. How a playwright can have a distinct voice that remains true as he continues to evolve, the way a composer or painter has a distinct sound or way of portraying light. I've loved these staged readings, rehearsed for only a single afternoon. I think this short rehearsal is what gives Pinter's words a sense of realness, an immediacy that might get lost after weeks of preparation. The actors don't have time to over-think the words, which can be fatal. I think Frank Corrado described some performances of Pinter seen in England last year as "suicidally reverential," or something like that.

This is the difficulty with Pinter. It's easy - and catastrophic - to think too much, to over-interpret every phrase, over-emphasize every pause. His words are so precise that all you have to do is say them as naturally as if you were speaking yourself. As the way Pinter himself speaks, if you've seen him in interviews. Which, of course, is also hard. You have to wear the words lightly. The lightness is key. I am reminded of Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millenium, his essays (lectures) titled Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity (Calvino died before writing the sixth, Consistency). These first three - lightness, quickness, and exactitude - are what makes Pinter work. You need all three to lay bare the true, unbearable weight of emotions that run beneath the words. (Here I echo Calvino writing about Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and how "everything we choose and value in life for its lightness soon reveals its true, unbearable weight"*). I can't describe it any other way.

Old Friends is, like Moonlight, or Betrayal, or No Man's Land, about friendship and love and memory and the passing of time. Once again there are repeated motifs, recurring moments and phrases, emphasizing the play's resemblance less to a coherent story than to a piece of music. The same memory is described by different people, slightly differently, which is how it happens in real life. You aren't sure just what happened (at least I am not, which is my usual state of mind after a Pinter play), but as we see recurring moments unfold I hear a murmured catch of breath as the audience around me recognizes the repeated coda. This palpable energy flickers across the room in a wave.

What we have here in the Bullitt Cabaret of ACT Theatre is a precious intimacy, between the actors in Old Friends who are most likely old friends, for the Seattle theatre scene is small and tightly knit - and between the actors and the audience who have been coming to these Pinter Fortnightly readings for three years now. Marianne Owen I remember from my first season attending ACT, in 1992. A few nights later I saw her and her husband, Kurt Beattie (who happens to be Artistic Director at ACT), at Town Hall. I ran up to her to say how much I loved Old Times and how much I was looking forward to the festival coming up this summer. She, too, was struck by the intensity of the audience, and I am again reminded of what I said regarding How to Write a New Book for the Bible: the audience makes or breaks a play. We are here because we love Pinter, because we love ACT, because we love Frank Corrado for putting these Fortnightly readings together, because we love these actors who have been striding our stages for lo these twenty or thirty years, perhaps more. And because we want it, no need it, to go on.

*Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millenium. Vintage, 1993. p. 7.

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