Thursday, December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter, 1930-2008

Harold Pinter has died, at the age of 78, after a lengthy illness. He was first diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2002. The New York Times has an excellent obituary here. (In a macabre touch, since obituaries are often drafted long before their subject dies, this one was co-written by Times culture writer Mel Gussow--who himself died in 2005.)

The Times also has an excellent page filled with reviews of Pinter's plays and films, and a wide variety of articles about him. It's an excellent way to get a deeper view of his work, and it can be found here.

Pinter was one of the great playwrights of our time--something which was recognized by the Nobel committee, which made Pinter only the ninth playwright awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (previous ones included George Bernard Shaw, Luigi Pirandello, Eugene O'Neill, and Samuel Beckett). 

I've had a few wonderful Pinter experiences, including seeing an absolutely terrifying Old Times at Northwestern, The Hothouse, his earliest play, at London's National Theatre, and The Birthday Party, here in Chicago at Signal Ensemble Theatre. Old Times had me gasping when a woman lit a cigarette, The Hothouse, though written before Pinter had really found his voice and taking place in a theatre somewhat too large for the script's claustrophobia, was still a fascinating and frightening look into darkness, and The Birthday Party exposed my boyfriend, who didn't know Pinter's work, to one of his most disturbing and bizarre plays. I'm still not sure he's forgiven me.

I also had the opportunity to work on his plays in acting class my senior year at Northwestern. Doing the Lenny-Ruth scene from The Homecoming is about as much fun as I've ever had in acting class. As cryptic as the language is, it's incredibly alive, practically electric, and unbelievably fun to speak.

So let's remember Pinter--How many other playwrights have inspired adjectives?--insert mysterious pauses into our conversation, and look for "the weasel under the cocktail cabinet," as Pinter described his own works. There won't be another like him, but what riches he has given!

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