In terms of timing, Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company got very lucky this fall. Similar to last year’s double bill of two one-act plays by Eugene Ionesco, the company was set to present two one acts by English playwright and novelist Harold Pinter, which also happen to be his first and latest plays to be written. And as for luck, Mr. Pinter just won the 2005 Noble Prize for his wide-ranging body of dramatic and descriptive literature, which includes classic twentieth century modernist plays like The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming and Betrayal.
Though reviled by a number of critics including John Simon (in his newly published retrospective collection of theater reviews, he refers to Pinter as an unworthy sham artist on several occasions), Mr. Pinter is without question one of the most influential English playwrights from the Angry Young Man/Royal Court generation, set off by the incendiary tactics of himself and other writers like John Osborne, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard. But in terms of dramatic conventions, what easily sets Pinter apart from the others is his incessant, but meaningful use and exploitation of dramatic pauses. It is in these moments that his characters often speak loudest, allowing actors to showcase their dramatic abilities and forward their characters’ emotional and mental subtleties.
And though neither “The Room” or “Celebration” is on the same level of quality of the terrorism in The Birthday Party or the human grittiness of The Homecoming, this new double bill nevertheless succeeds in successfully demonstrating the evolution of Pinter as a dramatist from 1957 (“The Room”) to 1999 (“Celebration”). And in terms of production, Atlantic Artistic Director Neil Pepe and his very talented adult cast understand how to perform these works effectively, without unnecessary hints of melodrama in “The Room” or of caricature in “Celebration.”
“The Room,” which takes place in a dreary London flat, resembles Pinter’s more famous works much more closely than does Celebration. It follows the garrulous behavior and antics of Rose Hudd (Mary Bell Peil), as she attempts to communicate with her reticent, emotionally vacant husband (Thomas Jay Ryan) and landlord (Peter Maloney), and later with a mysterious blind man (Earle Hyman) as well as a couple seeking to occupy her room (Kate Blumberg and David Pittu).
“Celebration,” on the other hand, is by comparison a much more humorous and seemingly lighter one-act. On New Year’s Eve at a fancy restaurant, two tables are featured onstage: one contains two heterosexual couples, of which the two women are sisters; and a separate couple on the other side of the stage. Though each couple is already at odds with each other, visitors such as the hostess or the manager or the loquacious waiter are on the prowl, and the six customers eventually find a reason to unite into one table by the end. Particularly noteworthy in the scene is the performance of David Pittu as a waiter who begs for attention by bragging about his grandfather, who apparently was a friend to all the celebrities of the early Twentieth Century, ranging from T.S. Eliot to nearly anyone involved in the Hollywood studio star system.
“Celebration,” though considerably funnier than “The Room,” also has much less conflict. However, it plays out onstage considerably better than does "The Room." Still, "Celebration" shows Pinter as a writer who is much more confident and fluid in his abilities to write for character. In fact, the transition from one play to the other makes "Celebration" seem even more enjoyable through the comparative setup.
Atlantic Theater Company
336 West 20th Street
Through January 21, 2005
Call 212-239-6200, $50, schedule varies
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.