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The Hothouse

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I don't know how you'll spend your summer vacation, but I'm planning a month-long wallow in dread, paranoia and terror.

Am I joining a local Tea Party chapter? Not at all. I'm taking in Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's Harold Pinter festival -- six plays running in rotation through Aug. 22.

So it's a month of gloom for me ... and I couldn't be happier, because I'm a huge Pinter fan. No other playwright (and I include Pinter's hero Samuel Beckett) peered into the existential void of being and wrote such thrilling theatrical events from what he saw. (As a bonus, he's a hell of a lot funnier than Beckett.)

Pinter was also a much-awarded screenwriter as well as director, actor and, in his later years, the political conscience of the Western world. He won the Nobel Prize in 2005 ... and if you want the psychological equivalent of a skin peel, go online and look for his Nobel lecture. Unable to travel to Stockholm because of illness, Pinter taped his acceptance speech, and it's a blistering excoriation of America, American foreign and domestic policy, and several aspects of the American character.

So you can be sure that Pinter didn't waste his talents writing smutty sex farces or pointlessly abstruse theater pieces.

And that brings us to the first entry in PICT's Pinter Festival: the 1980 play The Hothouse. While it's not true to say Pinter didn't bother with plot, you don't go to a Pinter play for the storytelling. What he wrote was situations (in which he allows the dread, paranoia and terror to roam freely). The Hothouse "situation" is a nameless institution -- a sanitarium more than likely -- and the mundane murderous venality of the administrative staff. Hothouse, like most Pinter, is about power -- who has it, who wants it and the deadly exploitation of it.

And oh, by the way, it's a very, very funny play as well.

On Gianni Downs' absolutely exquisite set, director Matthew Gray adroitly leads an impeccable company of Larry John Meyers, Tami Dixon, Michael Hanrahan, Martin Giles, Doug Pona, Sam Tsoutsouvas and, most especially, Leo Marks, whose tiniest smile can turn your blood to crushed ice.

This production is a great way to kick off the festival, and I plan to catch all of it. So join us next week for more fun as dread, paranoia and terror keep lapping upon the Pittsburgh theatrical shore.

 

The Hothouse continues through Aug 22. Henry Heymann Theater. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org

Power plays: Tami Dixon and Leo Marks in PICT's The Hothouse - COURTESY OF SUELLEN FITZSIMMONS

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