27 November 2006


The Washington Shakespeare Company, which is really the Washington Anything We Damn Well Please Company, has been presenting readings by British playwrights that they like. Last week David and I saw heard Stoppard's Night and Day, which felt to me as though Stoppard thought that it would be fun to write one of those 1930s Colonial Africa with Brits Dresssing for Dinner movies, only some Stoppard kept creeping in.

Anyway, tonight we heard some Pinter. They did two short pieces, Ashes to Ashes and The New World Order. Of the two, I liked Ashes to Ashes better, largely because The New World Order lacked any of the gasp of surprise that really good Pinter gives me. After I saw Betrayal, I confessed to the actor playing Jerry that the literal gasp that he heard at one point - Fountainhead plays in a very intimate theater - was me. And because if Tom Stoppard's paintbox is ideas, then Pinter's is enigma. He speaks in riddles and The New World Order was more of a knock-knock joke than a koan. Unless I was totally missing something, always possible, and in fact, probable.

I went to the ladies' room afterwards and both stalls were being used by other patrons (patronesses?) who were discussing the evening's offerings and deciding that they couldn't hear the actors very well and that what they could hear, they didn't understand. I got involved when they were trying to figure out if Mr. Pinter is alive or dead (they didn't try to determine his Canadianess). I said that he was alive and had won a Nobel Prize last year for literature. "Not for these plays!" "No, for the whole body of his work." This put me in the position of being the closest thing we were going to have in that moment to a Pinter expert. (Mr. Pinter, I am sorry. You really should be represented by far better dramaturgs than me.)

They asked me if Ashes, with its references to babies torn from their mothers was about the holocaust. "I don't know." If Order was about Abu Ghraib. "I don't know." They could have been; the parallels are certainly there. I find that - outside of Betrayal - I need to let Pinter percolate for a while before I know what it means to me. Oh, sure, there's always menace and nameless dread, but besides that. The closest I have come so far is that to me the play speaks to the difference between knowing something and understanding it.

I said that it seemed to me that the two plays and two poems chosen did comment on our current foreign policies, and I knew as I was saying that that Order probably predated our current overseas adventures. (It does. It was written in 1991. We weren't in Iraq then. We were in Kuwait. But I digress.)

To really grok Ashes, I'll need to see it a few more times. (And I'd like to.) Robert Altman said that his movies needed to be seen at least twice if they were to be understood. Once to let it wash over one and once to make the connections. Ashes has some good connections waiting for me.


tommyspoon said...

Your analogy of a knock-knock joke for "NWO" is a good one. But it's more of a "theatrical exercise" than a joke. In this case, the exercise is how to make the hooded man in the middle the focus of the piece when he doesn't speak at all. A reading of "NWO" probably doesn't work for that reason.

Now the companion piece to "NWO", "Mountain Language", is one of his best plays. And it's only 20 minutes long.

David Gorsline said...

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Zen koan.

Zen koan who?