Troyens

Troyens

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm Too Stupid for This One.

Harold Pinter's No Man's Land is this summer's hot Bay Area theater ticket, owing to the presence in the cast of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, not to mention Billy Crudup. McKellan and Stewart are best known in the US for their film and TV work, but they do a lot of stage work in Great Britain and, occasionally, in the US. (I rather suspect that they've each made enough money playing wizards, space captains, and mutants that they can do whatever they damn well please for the rest of their professional lives, and more power to them.)

In any event, we scored tickets by virtue of being included in a large group ticket purchase, and we saw the show Saturday night. At the end of it, about all we could say was WTF? Because the acting is stupendous (McKellan and Stewart are both subtle and convincing actors; Crudup is excellent but seems wasted in a small role), but WTF? Plot? What happened? Why? How come the audience kept laughing at things that were not funny?

It's not even a matter of having an unreliable narrator or character. In this case, the playwright is unreliable.

Is the rest of Pinter's body of work like this? If so, I will be thinking twice about ever seeing one of his plays again.

11 comments:

Yvonne said...

I haven't seen No Man's Land, but I really enjoyed Betrayal, written about three years later. He plays with structure, but the reverse chronology works really well and enhances perception of character and motivation. I'd definitely recommend that. I've also seen A Kind of Alaska; it sticks less vividly in my memory, but certainly wasn't a "WTF" play.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks! Maybe I'm not too dumb for those.

Tom DePlonty said...

Maybe you can find a musically-inclined Pinter fan who doesn't understand Elliott Carter, and help one another through your mutual bafflement. I'm only half kidding.

Lisa Hirsch said...

My latest attempt to explain Carter involved identifying him as the anti-Feldman. Hmm.

Henry Holland said...

I call Carter a "maximalist". See also: Ferneyhough and James Dillon.

Zwölftöner said...

Martin Esslin's various writings on Pinter are hugely informative and readable; he really helped to clarify Pinter at a time when, not for want of trying, I found the plays pretentious, like hand-me-down Beckett. Great lit crit in its own right and not off-puttingly theoretical. It was only some years after first reading Esslin that I found out he was a Viennese exile who had studied theatre and philosophy at the University of Vienna in the wake of the Vienna Circle's and Max Reinhardt's influence on that institution, and suddenly all the pieces fell into place.

Certainly as far as Pinter went there was no turning back after Esslin. I even like the plays traditionally regarded at his weaker efforts, like A Kind Of Alaska. Celebration is underrated, and not to me the crude critique of elites some see it as. Pinter's late poetry on the other hand, well, I'm yet to be persuaded that it isn't just dire.

Joe Barron said...

After seeing "The Dumb Waiter," a perplexed audience member wrtoe to Pinter, asking, about the play's two characters: "Who are they? Where do they come from? Are the supposed to be normal?"

Writing back, Pinter said that before he could answer the woman's questions, he had to ask her the following: "Who are you? Where do you come from? Are you supposed to be normal?"

calimac said...

The questions Pinter posed the woman are easily and simply answerable. He was just being a jerk.

Joe Barron said...

Jerk or not, it was a memorable reply. He was also making the point that in his plays, as in life, when we are confronted with a new situation, we do not always have context readily provided. And I seem to have made a mistake. According to web sources, the play in question was The Birthday Party.

Eric Pease said...

the movie version of Pinter's "Betrayal" is on Youtube and Mike Nichols is directing a new production in NYC this fall

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyHjNgls264

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, Eric! If I make it to NYC, maybe I should get tickets (and maybe I should read the play first).

And belated thanks to Zwölftöner for the pointer.