Theater Review: PINTER: Art, Politics, Truth at the Green Zone in Dallas
by Christopher Stephen Soden
John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Sunday, November 14, 2010
It seems to me that in any major city with an enthusiastic theatre community you're going to find (if you're fortunate) a handful of theater companies that are willing to push the boundaries of expectations. They explore pieces and playwrights that might not get as much exposure, challenging our comfort zones, provoking us to confront and process some of the more harrowing truths of life on this planet. Upstart Productions is just such a company. They surprise us, they intrigue us, they amuse and frighten, enervate and compel us to engage our minds when we participate in the realms of performance, rather than passively witness.
In the Pinter Trilogy (PINTER: Art, Politics, Truth) currently being presented by Upstart (playing at The Green Zone in Dallas through November 20), the three one-acts are prefaced by a shadowy, somewhat nebulous filmed interview in which Pinter describes his technique.
Like numerous other artists, Pinter attempts to capture the truth of a situation by pointing to its reflection or some other indirect manifestation of its process. Like inferring an orange by finding seeds on a plate. In these cinematic interludes Pinter clarifies his intent to plumb the deeper truths by expressing the enigmatic, the inexplicable, the result rather than the entire equation. I believe this was an appropriate gesture on the part of Upstart, as it makes Pinter's motives a great deal easier to grasp. He's not being elusive simply for the sake of mystery or tantalization.
In Celebration (Art), directed by Donny Covington, we join diners in a very posh, sophisticated restaurant in London. The action cuts back and forth between a younger married couple and two older married couples (two brothers married to two sisters) celebrating a wedding anniversary. Pinter exploits this special milieu by eliciting frank, ambivalent dialogue from the characters. There's something about these surroundings, dedicated to comfort, pleasure, sybaritism, and high spirits that strips away a level of personal decorum.
In a way, the restaurant is almost utopian in its appeal to people from all walks of life, imbibing wine and gradually confiding more and more than they normally might, because the gathering feels safe. What begins as polite conversation might progress to revelations of animosity, rapaciousness, or secrets more easily confided to strangers than lifelong partners. Celebration, in its acerbic, curiously heartfelt way, dissects the nature of intimacy and the caste system as well. You might believe that slavery no longer exists in more enlightened corners of the world till you see two women groping a waiter because they know they can. Covington has brought just the right balance to this grotesque wedding of the sacred and profane.
One for the Road (Politics), directed by Mason York, is a grueling, intense examination of the connection between torture and patriotism. What is most profoundly disturbing about this piece is the self-righteous, lofty tone of Nicolas, an interrogator who does most of the talking. The other three characters barely say a word, and Nicolas is all about propriety, control, degradation, and ethical hubris. He is nearly the quintessential representation for partisan rationale; for the ends justifying the means.
He feels absolutely justified in the abominations he condones, yet Pinter doesn't disclose much more than the slightest details. The pain and misery of his prisoners, Victor and Gila, is apparent in their responses to Nicolas. They are utterly terrified and afraid to make the most trivial mistake. Mason York has done very well with this material in which tone is so crucial and where so much is transmitted through the unspoken. If you heard Nicolas pontificating at a party, he'd seem like a buffoon, but here, in his private kingdom, he is a merciless, bilious despot.
A Kind of Alaska (Truth), directed by Diana Gonzalez, was inspired from the cruel phenomenon sleeping sickness epidemic that spread in the winter of 1916-17. With the discovery of L-Dopa, many of the victims were roused from their coma-like, prolonged repose. Deborah is one of those stricken and when she stirs, at the beginning of the play, she still has her memory as a 12-year-old, even though 30 years have passed.
Gonzalez has a consummate grasp of this piece, which uses the disease encephalitis lethargica, as a device for looking at the nature of being, connection, and the core, elemental values that influence our perception of the world, whatever our age...(Read more at pegasusnews.com)