Friday, December 26, 2008

The longest pause...

Harold Pinter died two days ago. I only found out last night from my news feed on the Facebook, of all places. <--Why is it Facebook seems to be the only way to know what is happening in people's lives? Recently, I had yet ANOTHER friend announce their engagement there before I heard it from them. What is that about? I confess to being just as addicted to the social networking site as much as anyone else, but for frak's sake people, pick a phone already. I want to hear it from you directly, not just because I spent my afternoon stalking you online.


I love Pinter, and I can honestly say that he was the second playwright to actually make me think about what theatre can do, and more specifically how text can shape an entire show/performance. I first read The Homecoming my freshman year in college, and before him no playwright had really left an impression on me other than Shakespeare, who by then I had been acquainted with for about six or seven years. Reading that play blew my mind, and for one of the first times I actually started thinking about how modern theatre could do exactly what classical theatre did for me, but in an entirely opposite way. They say that with Shakespeare the characters live on the line--most classical has this reputation, that there's no "internal life" necessarily, because everyone is running around telling the audience exactly how they feel all of the time, usually using beautiful imagery, etc. But then came Pinter and his pauses, where he showed you exactly how a character was feeling, but in a completely different way: by having them say nothing at all. Or by having them talk around what was happening, about things that didn't seem to be connected to the plot or stage action at all (which may have been one of the reasons The Birthday Party only played eight performances). Actors have to be completely grounded in those characters so it makes sense to them (and hopefully at least some of the audience) why they can do one thing on stage while saying something else. This seems like an obvious point for anyone who's had any kind of acting training, particularly when we talk about any play that we respect as having subtext. But I submit that often, especially with a writer like Pinter, this doesn't happen. Or doesn't happen fully, because he's pretty tough. (Another writer this happens with easily is Mamet, who by his own account seems to completely dismiss the actor in terms of the play, other than being a vessel for his {Mamet's} words. I think that's unfair: when Mamet's plays are done well, it's usually because the actors are smart enough and talented enough to actually understand what to do to make his text completely comprehensible to a spectator's ear. Otherwise, it could turn out to be a real mess. {Sorry Mamet, but fuck off.<--It's okay, he'd find that endearing.}) But when it does, oh what theatrical magic! What resonant moments that can happen on stage! What interesting stylistic choices! I just love it.

A more personal reason for lamenting the loss of Pinter is that this past October he was named president of Central, having also been an alumni of the institution. In a way, we belonged to him, and he belonged to the students who were running around in his old house, so to speak. We are meant to carry on the reputation of the school, part of which he established, and we thought he'd be around to shepherd us a bit. I'm sad we won't have that opportunity. I am interested to see what kind of memorial or tribute the school pays to him when we get back--he already has his name on one of the steps, so I'm sure that won't be it. I also wonder if his passing will re-inject his theatrical sensibility in any of the work my peers and I come to generate. Maybe the most fitting tribute would just be subjecting an audience to watching two characters stand in silence.

He might.



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