Friday, December 26, 2008

Thank you, Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter died yesterday.  He has been sick for a while, so it's not a shock, but it does make me sad to hear that perhaps the greatest living playwright has passed away.  The other contender, for me, is Tom Stoppard - or I guess the crown holder by default, now.

I never met Pinter in person, though I came close this September - he was supposed to attend the premiere of Havel's new play, Leaving, but he didn't make it.  I suspected it might be my only remaining chance to meet him.

Of course, if I met him, it's very possible I wouldn't have liked him much.  I have seen him interviewed many times, and unlike some of my other favorite playwrights (Ionesco, Stoppard, Havel), he always seemed to me to be, well, a bit of a bastard.  Of course, I'm judging from afar, based on watching and reading interviews.  But that was my strong impression.

His politics seemed simplistic.  I'm definitely left leaning, but the knee jerk anti-Americanism and his caustic dismissal of all opposing opinions seemed offensive to me in its lack of self-critical thought.  The great strength of his plays is the ambiguity that existed is all moments.  The great weakness in his personality seemed to be his impatience with any ambiguity about his own opinions.

Yet his plays were amazing.  His ability to fill his plays with a sense of hidden mystery that was always compelling, when well done, was transformative.  Every word seemed to be fraught with meaning.  And talking about the way that he transformed the pause has become cliche.

So does it matter whether he was a bastard or whether his politics were simplistic?  I'm not sure.  I just as strongly want to direct his work.  But I would not be as interested in producing a festival of it.  I am interested in playwrights whose personal essays are as compelling to me, in content, as their plays.

But in the end, if I never met him, how do I really know what he was like?  At a party yesterday evening, a woman was talking about a well known actor and how much of a bastard everyone said he was.

No, another woman at the party replied.  I've met him.  I was friends with him for years.  And he's a very kind man.

What I do know that his plays have enriched my life and my writing.  My play Strangers has a definite debt to him, though (I certainly hope) it is no imitation.  And I still remember the first time I saw a production of one of his plays onstage. It was The Birthday Party, produced by the Independent Theater Company (now defunct), at the House of Candles (now a Lower East Side bar).  The actors were very age inappropriate.  Some of them were very talented.  Some...were not.

But the director, or the company as a whole, understood the style.  And it was one of the most exciting plays I had seen.

Thank you, Independent Theater Company, wherever you are.  Thank you Harold Pinter.

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