Six actors executed the internationally recognized “Pinter pause” multiple times in Emory’s Theater Lab last Saturday night, marking the commencement of “The Pinter Staged Reading Series.” A three-week-long experience within Theater Emory‘s “Pinter Fest,” the series will feature staged readings of six of playwright Harold Pinter’s most celebrated and controversial plays: The Homecoming, Betrayal, Moonlight, The Dumbwaiter, A Kind of Alaska and Family Voices.
“Pinter Fest” celebrates the Nobel Prize-winning playwright in his entirety. John Ammerman, director of Saturday’s staged reading, explained that he aims for audiences to “gain an overall view of Pinter” through these events. In addition to staged readings, “Pinter Fest” will include film screenings, discussions and extended insight into the works and motivations of Pinter through the analyses of faculty members and guest performers.
The Homecoming was the first, and only thus far, of Pinter’s plays to have been performed in this month’s series of staged readings. In the staged reading format, cast members carry their scripts while performing. Yet, they are able to simultaneously portray their respective roles, both dramatically and effectively.
Furthermore, the actors were given only three days to prepare for the reading. Wednesday was the cast’s first read-through, thus they had three days to look over the script, to gain an understanding of their characters and to sufficiently master a new dialect – the British playwright’s setting revolves, more often than not, around London.
During his introduction of the staged reading, director Ammerman defined the preceding three days as “tempestuous” but, ultimately, an “interesting challenge.”
Additionally, while introducing Saturday’s staged reading, Ammerman made it a point to consider the “Pinter pause.”
This device, which Ammerman referred to as “an active participant in understanding the text,” is employed throughout the majority of Pinter’s works, sharply separating dialogues and encouraging the audience to infer what they believe has happened and what has not happened.
The “pause” is essentially ubiquitous in Pinter’s writing and is oftentimes accompanied by sprinkled subtext and silences. His style is, in fact, unique to the point where the term “Pinteresque” has been coined and accepted.
Pinter has mingled pause with drama with silence; indirectly, he is able to suggest ominous references to the world, politics, communication and humanity – and all of its faults.
In order to allocate enough attention to the words, actions and silences of the play itself, The Homecoming staged reading employed few distractive details. The set consisted of only a bench, two music stands and several chairs.
Most notable about the set was that there were four chairs upstage; when an actor was to exit a scene, he or she would sit down in one of the four chairs.
The audience could therefore see the transparent expressions of the observing “offstage” actors, most of whom often exhibited the same expressions of surprise, amusement and guilt as the audience members.
One slight counterexample to this simple setting, however, was the presence of James Brown in the Theater Lab.
Although Brown wasn’t actually there, stage manager and Program Administrative Assistant to the Film and Media Studies Department Maureen Downs, would announce “blackout” between scenes. She would then proceed to play a rousing 30 seconds of a James Brown song, namely “Get Up Offa That Thing.”
Though the cast’s first read-through was only Wednesday, the group of actors succeeded in eliciting laughter and awe from their audience members.
Particularly amusing and routinely sparking laughter was Tim McDonough, chair and professor of Theater Studies. McDonough played Max, a lonely yet sardonic patriarch who criticizes his three sons and makes snap judgments about his son’s new wife, toward whom he uses a slew of profanities.
McDonough was tastefully melodramatic in his acting, and the contrasts between his created persona and that of the other actors created nothing short of an interesting dynamic onstage.
In performing Pinter’s The Homecoming, the cast – with merely three days of practice – successfully utilized the “Pinter pause” amongst various techniques in order to convey a menacing, entertaining ambiance.
Much was appropriately left up to interpretation during the performance. As Pinter stated in his Nobel Lecture “Art, Truth and Politics,” “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”
Audience members were left to decide for themselves. Using pauses and other “Pinteresque” features as guides, The Homecoming’s audience actively interpreted what was true in the play, what was false in the play and what was concurrently true and false.
– By Emily Sullivan, Staff Writer