Being Harold Pinter

By Belarus Free Theatre
Adapted and directed by Vladimir Shcherban
Featuring Nikolai Khalezin, Pavel Gorodnitski, Yana Rusakevich, Oleg Sidorchik, Irina Yaroshevich, Denis Tarasenka, Marina Yurevich
La MaMa E.T.C. Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street
production web site:

April 13, 2011 — May 15, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 21, 2011

  • “You never heard such silence.”
  • “A pen has no parents”
Belarus Free Theatre members. Image by Sara Krulwich, New York Times.

The Belarus Free Theatre arrived in New York City for the Under the Radar festival in January of this year under threat from the political authorities back home and carrying with them rapturous London reviews of this piece that muses on the writings and character of playwright Harold Pinter.  New York City embraced these actors during that festival and for this piece that places the spectator front and center to experience a repressive regime.  The Pinter performances almost immediately sold out.  At that time I missed out on Pinter but was able to see one of the added performances — Zone of Silence — that also is in the repertory of this return engagement.  My review:  A heightened sense of specialness, of in-the-moment-ness, permeated those January performances and certainly my performance of Zone of Silence.  The troupe traveled off to other cities, including Chicago, to admiring reviews and appreciative audiences.  With a new opportunity with this return engagement, I booked early.  Now that the hype somewhat abated, I wondered: would this piece pack the wallop others felt and wrote about earlier this year and in London some time before that?

In a word: yes.  Combining lithe acrobatic skill and wordless stage pictures, and English supertitles choreographed with the rapid fire delivery of the actors, Being Harold Pinter presents a version of Pinter the man, Pinter the playwright, and demonstrations of events that Pinter may or may not ever have imagined would be suggested by his language.  In a world of men and women and androgyny, in a world of black and white clothing and red highlights (the occasional splash of blood on an eye patch or on a menstrual pad reflecting the aftereffects of heinous acts), and light blue of plastic sheeting.  Clothed and unclothed, revealing willingly or through torture, the feeling of human beings repressed without reason, without explanation, with endless horror.

At random moments in the piece, the lulling pop music melody “Strangers in the Night” is whistled, then sung — I can’t recall if the lyrics are ever sung.  What is at first haunting in a romantic way becomes haunting in the most dastardly way.  That syrupy tune, never a favorite, will never have the same effect on me again.  In the same way that Clockwork Orange messed with my sense of Singing in the Rain.  I might fight the aftereffects but I can’t deny the power.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 28, 2011)

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