Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre concludes its August (and august!) Harold Pinter festival with a program of two one-acts -- The Room and Celebration -- and it's been an ambitious, if not audacious, salute to this towering figure of the 20th century. (How famous was Pinter? He turns up in a Sondheim lyric. Top that!)
The Room has the distinction of being the first produced Pinter play (1957) ... and to tell you the truth, that's about its only distinction. Don't get me wrong: I was excited to see a nascent Pinter taking his first dramatic steps. On the other hand, they are his first steps.
What I found most interesting is that The Dumb Waiter, which Pinter wrote a mere two years later, is so indebted to Samuel Beckett you couldn't imagine Pinter ever writing in any other style. But The Room seems like the bastard child of Eugene Ionesco and a monument to Dadaism.
The plot (and I'm being generous) is about a much beaten-down wife and the beaten-down world in which she lives. Beyond that, I couldn't tell you. Ionesco wrote The Bald Soprano with phrases out of the book he was using to learn English; for all the sense and cohesion behind The Room, Pinter might have been tossing Scrabble tiles on the floor. And while that may have been Pinter's destination, I have to say that his reasons for making the journey (and why we should make it with him) remain unclear. Sheila McKenna directs the play at full throttle, and draws amazingly supple performances from her cast of six, featuring Martin Giles and Bernadette Quigley. But if anybody truly understands this play, I'll give them five dollars.
Celebration is much more audience-friendly. We're in an achingly upper-crust restaurant where, at two different tables, two of the most crass, vulgar, small-minded parties are heedlessly gobbling their way through exquisite food and gorgeous wine. It's really a dramatic look at nouveau pigs at a very riche trough, and while Pinter drags out the joke a bit longer than he needs to, it's still a funny one.
Director Alan Stanford expertly rides Pinter's stylistically shifting waves, and it's huge fun to watch this ensemble cast (including Michael Hanrahan and Nike Doukas) dive full-force into the scathing bile of Pinter's work.
Hats off to them and, in fact, to the entire cast and crew of PICT's Harold Pinter festival.
The Room and Celebration continue through Fri., Aug. 20. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org