NEW YORK (AP) — Playwright and Nobel laureate Harold Pinter was famous for his precision with language and for his silences, with impactful ambiguity often the intended result.
Less well-known from his 50-year career as a masterful playwright, director, actor and political activist is his poetry, which included biting humor, outrage or dark reflections, as well as some tender love poems to his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser.
British actor Julian Sands, making a strong New York theater debut, is performing portions of Pinter's work in an elegant, engaging homage titled "A Celebration of Harold Pinter," that opened Monday night off-Broadway at the Irish Repertory Theatre's intimate black box stage.
Directed by Academy Award-nominated actor John Malkovich, the simply presented work allows the focus to be on Pinter's artful use of language, interspersed with insightful anecdotes about him, including some passages from Fraser's 2010 memoir, "Must You Go?"
The thoughtful homage originated when Pinter and Sands compiled some of Pinter's poems for a 2005 recital at a charitable event. Sands, who worked with the volatile writer and also knew him as a friend, used the work as part of a memorial tribute to Pinter after his death in 2008. With added personal reminiscences and prose selections, he premiered the current "Celebration" at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In an intimate atmosphere, Sands stirringly recalls youthful times and Pinter's early years as an actor, creating an affectionate tribute to his friend with an eloquent presentation of Pinter's insightful depths. He includes excerpts from some of Pinter's political writings and essays, as well as unsparing poems about death and the cancer that eventually ended his life. "I and my tumor dearly fight. Let's hope a double death is out."
Sands, well-known for his work in films, including "A Room With a View" and most recently, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," is confident and enthusiastic onstage. His accomplished delivery of Pinter's moving language is both graceful and impassioned, as he vehemently enacts Pinter's intensity or extemporaneously adds a few asides.
The compelling performance makes for a mesmerizing couple of hours. "Listen/I know the place/It is true/Everything we do/Corrects the space/Between death and me/And you," Sands intones repeatedly, like a recurring elegy. By the end of this skilled presentation, we feel that we've been rewarded with a richer perspective on Pinter, and on Sands as well.