“Should I be laughing right now?” Audience members of “Pinter Revue” found themselves asking that question throughout the performance.
“Pinter Revue” is a collection of short comedic sketches depicting the works of British playwright Harold Pinter. The show opened on Oct. 2 in the Theater Lab of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts and incorporates pieces from more than 30 years of Pinter’s career, such as “Trouble in the Works,” “The New World Order” and “Mountain Language.” The show will continue to run from Thursday, Oct. 9 to Saturday, Oct. 11.
Directed by Theater Emory‘s Resident Artist and Dramaturg Donald McManus, last Friday’s performance filled the Theater Lab and continued to treat the audience even after the curtain call, featuring a question and answer session with McManus, choreographer Nicholas Surbey (’10C) and the cast members.
Audience members entered the low-lit production space to the sounds of haunting string music which immediately created an atmosphere promoting the abstract and the unknown.
Even the transitions between scenes illustrated a clear presence of artistry. Featuring slow and deliberate choreography by Surbey, who is also the communications specialist in Emory’s Center for Creativity and Arts, the transitions simultaneously cleared the set of the previous scene and created the environment for the next.
Though “Pinter Revue” is a compilation of short plays and sketches set in different times and worlds, they are tied together through the importance of language, as well as through their sharp social commentary.
The short pieces also all share an undercurrent of dark humor, urging the audience to not only laugh, but to think critically about the content.
While the cast created moments that left the entire audience in stitches, there were also a number of moments that fell flat. Unless one had familiarity with Pinter’s work, it was incredibly easy to miss some of the humor in the fast-paced dialogue.
The performance included the short play “Mountain Language,” which Pinter wrote to voice his concerns about the Turkish attempts to eradicate the Kurdish language, which he became familiar with after a trip to Turkey in 1985. All four scenes about a group of prison guards’ attempts to ban the language of prisoners were interspersed with the other sketches. The arrangement was clearly an astute decision by McManus as it provided a base for the play, bringing the stories back to the common themes of language and biting social commentary.
“The Examination” was easily the highlight of the entire piece. The story of an examiner and the examined, the sketch suggested a recurrent power struggle between the two parties. Emory Artist Affiliate Veronika Duerr seduced the audience with her performance, beginning as the examiner, and ending as the examined. She effortlessly delivered six pages of monologue brimming with verbosity and obscure terminology.
Duerr was supported by the mystifying choreography and the rhythmic sounds of the scene, including a broom sweeping the floor, chalk writing on a chalkboard and a finger tapping on a seat.
McManus called the scene “thoroughly abstract,” sharing in the question and answer session that it is the “core piece for the look of the show.”
The intriguing scene left the audience members scrambling to understand what exactly happened onstage, provoking thought and conversation long after the curtain call.
After the performance, McManus told the audience, “[We] wanted to leave [the scene] open-ended, evocative.”
He remarked that if Duerr, Surbey and himself were asked to explain their personal understandings of the sketch that it would result in “three very different interpretations.”
Though it is not quite as obviously a standout, the play also closed on a strong note. “Night” featured Emory’s Artist Affiliate David de Vries and Actors’ Equity Association’s Megan McFarland in an endearing and humorous love scene involving an elderly couple reminiscing about the first time that they met.
The sketch was a testament to de Vries’ and McFarland’s obvious expertise, who delivered the piece with excellent comedic timing and a nostalgia that affected the entire room.
The cast is comprised of students and professionals alike, working alongside one another to bring Pinter’s works to life.
College freshman Margaret Beker, a member of the ensemble, said that she enjoyed “watching other people act and create these dialogues and these scenes [because] you can really learn a lot from them.”
The collaboration resulted in some fantastic performances. Although parts of the show lacked the magical elements that completely drew the audience into the play, overall, it still created much laughter and even more thought.
College freshman Tyler Teresi praised the play, saying, “[the play] made you think and [it has] a good blend of different works.”
“Pinter Revue” challenges its audience to think critically about the content. It forces audience members to determine the connections between the sketches, as well as the overarching themes throughout the show.
So, to laugh or not to laugh? At “Pinter Revue,” you have to answer that question for yourself.
– By Julia Munslow, Staff Writer