“I know the place./It is true./Everything we do/Corrects the space/Between death and me/And you.” (Harold Pinter 1977) Thus begins and ends Julian Sands’ fascinating portrait of a man he respects, admires and knew. In a show comprised not only of history, dramatization of the subject’s poems (yes, poems), and notable opinions about him, but also personal experience and reflection, we’re treated to an intimate and insightful entertainment.
Harold Pinter was, by all reports, an enigmatic, opinionated, pugnacious, passionate, intellectual, highly political, and extremely talented man whose influential writing career spanned almost 50 years. As Pinter was prone to just such lists, I feel no need to abbreviate this one. Having attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Pinter began as a “jobbing actor,” though he’s best known as being responsible for the quality and breadth of over 29 plays and 21 screenplays. The playwright was awarded a Nobel Prize for “uncovering the precipice under everyday prattle and forcing entry into oppression’s closed rooms.”
I must admit to being surprised at the power and personality of Pinter’s poetry as performed in accordance with “tutoring” for a 2005 charity event by the deceased author himself. Sands, it seems, was instructed as to each “beat, pause and silence” whose difference he ably demonstrates. “I believe if we only knew him by his poetry, we would feel intimacy of emotion he denied himself with his work on the stage,” the actor comments. After Pinter’s death, a performance of the poems for a group of friends including John Malkovich lead to the creation of this piece.
Quotes from Pinter’s writing about touring Ireland in a Shakespeare troop show the author’s appreciation of the life and craft of theater. Sands, himself a graduate of RADA, recalls his own early part in a production of The Room. “I think some of the youthful insight we brought to it would’ve appalled Harold,” he says with a laugh. It’s this easy, engaging attitude that makes his subject human and accessible. Solicited observations contributed by others are handwritten on slightly rumpled paper making the project appear a personal endeavor.
We’re made privy to Pinter’s love at first sight for and undiminished adoration of his wife through expression made so poignant and immediate we expect the lady to be standing at the back of the audience; to haiku-like, unexpectedly theatrical pieces about cricket which he avidly followed “short but of Proustian depth;” to political vehemence: Well, there was no problem./All the democracies/ (all the democracies)/were behind us./So we had to kill some people./So what?/Lefties get killed; and to articulated courage concerning his impending death from Cancer: I need my tumour dead/A tumour which forgets to die/But plans to murder me instead. Sands’ thoughtful examination of Pinter’s least known oeuvre is revelatory. Sincerity, warmth, and humor for which the author is not remembered are made as manifest as his education and eloquence.
Julian Sands has created an extremely unusual tribute. His own writing is up to its celebrant, a pleasure to hear and attend. Pinter likely would’ve had something curmudgeonly to say about all this but the rest of us have spend 1 ½ hours engrossed and enlightened.
A Celebration of Harold Pinter
Featuring Julian Sands
Directed by John Malkovich
The Irish Repertory Theater
132 West 22 Street
Through November 4, 2012