I just read John Lahr's piece on Harold Pinter and his play,"The Homecoming" in the Dec. 24th & 31st 2007 issue of The New Yorker. Okay, so I'm a little behind. It was the week I started grad school. Five months after Mr. Ex dumped me. And I wasn't reading much due to an inability to concentrate, an inability to comprehend a more than a sentence at a time, an inablity to breathe in and breathe out. Not a good state of being for a student in an MFA program in creative writing. Oh well. That was then.
I loved Harold Pinter. He, along with Edward Albee, were the playwrights of the moment when I began college in 1970. A word about the pre electronic-connectedness time warp of the era; it took time for what was new and hot and interesting to work its way from England to the American Midwest. Unlike the Beatles, Pinter didn't do the Ed Sullivan Show. (Pinter joke: And if he had, they probably would have edited out the pauses.) "The Homecoming's" New York debut occurred in 1967, and John Lahr, who was a schoolteacher then, writes, "I didn't quite know what I'd seen; I knew only that the play's spectacular combination of mystery and rigor had taught me something new about life, about language, about the nature of dramatic storytelling."
I'm sure I couldn't have put it that articulately, but I knew something was up. Pinter's plays frightened me--and they also made me laugh. But like the first director of "The Birthday Party," I wanted someone to explain to me what they were about. "The weasel under the china cabinet," I remember reading in some interview with Pinter back then. That made me laugh too. Lahr writes in the New Yorker that Pinter refused the director any explanation. But Lahr quotes something Pinter did write about his work, "We are faced with the immense difficulty, if not the impossibility of verifying the past. I don't mean merely twenty years ago, but yesterday, this morning. What was the nature of what took place, what happened?" This is what Pinter's plays ask the reader/viewer to figure out.
And there are those famous pauses Pinter wrote into his scripts. "The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don't hear," Pinter wrote. "It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place."
It's not that I didn't hear Mr. Ex's ruthless indifference. I just didn't want to. Anymore than I'd want to admit there was a weasel under my china cabinet.