Thursday, February 24, 2011

Void Of Horror

Void Of Horror

In the era of AMC’s “Mad Men” and in 1965, Harold Pinter wrote “The Homecoming” his Tony Award winning masterpiece, which just had a run at Center Stage here in Baltimore.

A Jewish/British playwright, Pinter, who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was an actor, poet and left-leaning political activist. His early plays, were able to wrench and capture the ontological void of the vast nowhere land from his predecessor Samuel Beckett and place it within realistic settings.

He infused their spare, unadorned locales of ordinariness (his play “The Room” takes place in a one-room apartment) with characters drawn by jagged razors, so sharply carved they glide before they cut. Even the proscenium at Center Stage was framed like a picture, beckoning the audience to observe the slit like voyeurs.

Enter Ruth, a name with significant lineage in the Jewish canon and no accident either. Like the biblical Ruth who is brought to her husband’s people, this Ruth accompanies her husband, a professor of philosophy, into his childhood home occupied by his father, two brothers and an uncle, while getting to know all of them in the biblical sense.

In the end, Pinter has Ruth, the object of desire, coil around and transform the house that the men built, into one that she rules. The lads revolve around her like orbs to the Sun.

For anyone who watches “Mad Men” knows, the women of that era are constantly treated like servants or worse, tarts. NOW was only founded a year later in ‘66.

Equally then, while women were still second-class citizens, Jews were an invisible minority.

Perhaps out of fear, or pragmatism, like many artists and writers of his day, Pinter doesn’t make much of his Jewishness in any overt way. One can assume, that Max and his kin are Jewish the same way Arthur Miller’s Loman family in “Death of a Salesman” is Jewish.

Fast forward to today, where names like Tony Kushner and David Mamet have their characters make no bones about their identity. Movies and books by Jews, about Jews are for everyone. Likewise, more women are in the American workforce these days than men.

Men, who have created more hot wars, cold wars and conflicts during their reign should be happy, no grateful, that at this point, when one twitch of a finger can annihilate us all, women may have been sent to rescue us.

Flip open your smartphone to the flipside of a time-warped world and from Iran to Egypt, we’re witnessing ‘60s riots in real time where woman are oppressed and Jews mostly despised.

Can this new awakening of freedom, from a world previously cutoff from progress triumph? Or, will the freedom of speech and to assemble, to go to the theatre and see Pinter plays, be snuffed? (Pause).

Pinter’s early plays were apolitical. He even said, “I'm not committed as a writer, in the usual sense of the term, either religiously or politically. I'm not conscious of any social function.” Yet, their menacing pauses can be as terrifying as a scream from Gehenna.

In his later life and in the midst of our divisive culture, much of Pinter’s political activism rained controversy down on him. Yet know, as an officer in PEN and with fellow playwright Miller, he travelled on a mission to investigate and protest against the torture of imprisoned writers.

In fact, up until he died, stricken by cancer in 2008, and in the last decade of his life, he devoted himself to causes he believed in and rarely wrote plays.

Just as women had to be wallflowers and Jews needed to be unseen, his greatest plays left unsaid (perhaps in those frightening pauses) much of what he later saw as wrong with the world, as madness.