Harold Pinter (1930-2008) was among the greatest British playwrights of the twentieth century. I have studied his scripts and hold their author in high esteem. It is much easier to acquaint yourself with Pinter by reading scripts than attending productions, for the simple reason that the plays are seldom produced. They have a reputation of being box office poison which keeps them off theater calendars, especially in difficult economic times.
Fortunately for Seattle, there is a theatre artist and impresario among us, Frank Corrado, who reveres Pinter and by dint of enthusiasm and perseverance has brought Pinter to Seattle stages. With the support of ACT Theatre, three years ago he launched a series of readings titled “Pinter Fortnightly.” Audiences grew, eventually giving Corrado and ACT the confidence to mount the current “Pinter Festival.”
You know the kind of guy who at a bar, alone, silent, shoulders taut, exudes a “Don’t even think about messin’ with me” vibe. Well variations of that guy are splattered all over Pinter plays. Menace, danger, malevolence are the top notes and, I confess, the ones I associate with Pinter’s scripts. I was skeptical when Corrado remarked at one Fortnightly reading that humor does grace much of Pinter’s writing but it is all too often either ignored or botched in execution.
After seeing Pinter’s play Celebration in an exquisite production now on at ACT, I repent my ways and accept Pinter’s humor into my life. In this masterfully directed and acted production, you will find yourself laughing as if you were at a Neil Simon or Alan Ayckbourn play. Go see it and your diaphragm muscles, the ones that generate laughter, will get a full workout.
To be sure, the Pinteresque menace and malevolence are present, but now deployed in the service of humor. One speech in Celebration can be heard as explicating on a larger level how this play sublimates malevolence and produces humor. An uncouth diner at a posh restaurant confesses: “Look at me. I’m basically a totally disordered personality; some people would describe me as a psychopath. . . But when I’m sitting in this restaurant I suddenly find I have no psychopathic tendencies at all. I don’t feel like killing everyone in sight. I don’t feel like putting a bomb under everyone’s arse. I feel something quite different, I have a sense of equilibrium, or harmony, I love my fellow diners. Now this is very unusual for me. Normally I feel . . . absolute malice and hatred towards everyone within spitting distance – but here I feel love.” Cue laughter.
Celebration is paired with a shorter work, The Dumb Waiter, also superbly done and not lacking in humor. The Seattle Times review praised both. The Dumb Waiter (1960) and Celebration (2000) are the alpha and omega of Pinter’s oeuvre, his first and last plays. Kudos to Frank Corrado and ACT for sharing Pinter with Seattle.
When ACT called this summer’s Pinter offerings a “Festival,” they weren’t exaggerating. Events include four mainstage plays, short works and sketches, reading, films (Pinter also acted in and wrote movies), master classes, discussions, cabarets and even a party or two. The Festival runs through August 26. Details at ACT’s website.