Arts & Events

Theater Review: An Evening of Harold Pinter (Landscape & The Dumb Waiter)

Ken Bullock
Friday November 20, 2015 - 07:51:00 AM

"I'd like to stand by the sea ... " 

Two people in the same room, sitting at the same table. They speak, as if to someone else. Is it to, or about, each other? Beth (her name is never used) seems in a reverie, remembering what seems to have been a very personal encounter, somewhere else--or was it? What was it about?: 

"He felt my shadow ... I may have been mistaken. Perhaps the beach was empty. Perhaps there was no one there! They never saw my man. He didn't stand up ... Singing in the sea by myself ... " 

Meanwhile Duff (his name also not used) appears to be speaking to her, more or less. Her husband? A caretaker of someone else's property? (Typical of some of Harold .Pinter's other characters, too.) He moves about, at times restlessly; she sits still, gazing up ...  

Do parallel lines converge? Two separate stories, maybe about the same people. He's chatty, she's nostalgic--but chatty to her? Nostalgic about him? 

Landscape. We see the two spectators who describe to us, via each other--maybe via each other--what they see or have seen--or want to think, or us to think what they've seen. It works theatrically through a device very familiar in American theater since Eugene O'Neill--the Strindbergian Monologue: telling the audience something by speaking to another character, who doesn't respond.  

(Ron Nash, the director of An Evening of Strindberg, produced by Gary Gonser of Marin Onstage, showed his familiarity with Strindberg when he directed Miss Julie, also for Marin Onstage, last year. He and his actors make Pinter's sometimes opaque dislocations--which owe something to Samuel Beckett, but in the case of Beth's monologue, perhaps James Joyce, too, Molly Bloom's internal monologue at the end of Ulysses--work as transparently as a typical experience: watching others interact, suddenly aware of the moments, the expressions and lack of expression, between contact, their drifting sense of attention ... ) 

Kit Grimm plays Duff with a particular kind of gruff engagement. Esther Mulligan is fine as the dreamy Beth, recalling her own gaze out to sea. 

After intermission in the cozy cabaret theater that Margie Belrose made out of an old downtown church over 50 years ago, just across from the old brick San Rafael Library, a block from the Victorian Dollar Mansion, Falkirk, now housing the city cultural center, another Pinter two-hander: The Dumb Waiter. 

These two plays together constitute bookends of what Pinter typically does in his plays--a kind of bleak poetry of place--a vague, half-remembered place, or a gritty, too well-known (but nonetheless indistinct) place, with everyday characters populating it, their everyday speech opening up, or coming apart at the seams to reveal their own dislocation; against their attempts at poise or offhandedness, their sense of being lost, even in what at first seemed to be home.  

Gus and Ben are bivouacked in a basement room in the Midlands, early 1950s, having traveled for a job they must perform--and have performed often before. They try to kill time with small talk and petty contention, waiting for the moment to come. Are they there to intimidate someone, do violence to a stranger? Then a note appears under the door. And by turns all hell breaks loose--though it's the hell of little things, innocuous objects charged with ominous, unclear meaning--and the two partners become a music hall vaudeville team, descending into grotesquely hiarious slapstick ... 

(I remember British publisher John Calder talking about visiting his old client and friend Beckett, who told Calder--who'd first published Pinter--that Pinter had sent him the manuscript of his latest play. "What's it like?" Calder asked. Beckett smiled. "Oh, you know Harold. always the same. menace in a room!" 

It's a proof of the artistry of Pinter's plays and a tribute to them that his heavies, over the years and through many productions, have gradually taken on a kind of patina of charm, some becoming awkwardly likable thugs, hit men you know like an old shoe, a little like the old gangster movies, but at once more realistic in their talk and more stylized, more strangely poetic, the poetry of the banal things in life.)  

Michael Walraven and GreyWolf pair off well as the "boys," the seasoned professionals who're blown away by an unexpected breeze, knocked over by a dandelion floating on it ...  

It's a good taste of Pinter, a satisfying evening of one of our recent geniuses of the stage. 

And this's the last weekend, less than a half hour from Berkeley at the Belrose Theatre, 1415 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael--less than a mile west from the Central San Rafael exit off 101. Friday, November 20th, 8 pm & on the 21st, 2 & 8 pm. Tickets $12 (children), $19 (students & seniors) and $22 (general). or (415) 290-1433