Saturday, December 27, 2008

John Simon & Me

John Simon is a crusty old coot, and a racist to boot - he once said on Theatre Talk that Suzan-Lori Parks was a social climber because she married a white guy.

So it feels weird to note that he and I are virtually the only people in theatre who are not impressed by the work of Harold Pinter, who has been canonized as one of the Great Men of the Arts, worthy of many hagiographies in The New Yorker. Although I, at least, like Pinter's politics. But I agree with Simon in his review of THE HOMECOMING:
It is widely considered the Nobel laureate's masterpiece; rather than as a drawback, its making no sense is perceived as a challenge.

Pinter's characters are either sorry nonentities or predatory jackals. Bad enough, but, worse yet, each turns with predictable schematism into his or her opposite. Then, often enough, back again. Even the dead revolve, not in their graves but in human memory. For the spectator, steadily foreseeable reversals become an unsurprising shell game.

Max, 70, a retired butcher, has three sons: the youngest, Joey, a demolition worker by day and aspiring boxer at night; the middle one, Lenny, a successful pimp in London's Soho with a high-class clientele; the eldest, Teddy, a professor of philosophy in America, home to visit with his wife, Ruth.

Max refers to his late wife, Jessie, as one at whose ``rotten, stinking face it made [him] sick to look,'' though not ``such a bad bitch.'' At another time as a paragon who taught her boys ``all the morality they know,'' which turns out to be low praise indeed. Sam, Max's chauffeur brother, first calls her a charming lady, and later mentions her having adulterous sex in the back of his car.

Logical Incoherence?

Surly Lenny tries to engage Teddy in a philosophical discussion.

``Do you detect a certain logical incoherence in the central affirmations of Christian theism?'' he asks amid recondite questioning. Teddy, like no philosopher one has ever met, finds existential questions beyond his purview.

Lenny reminisces about an old lady coming out of nowhere and asking him to move an iron mangle from her front room to a back one. When the mangle proves too heavy, Lenny settles, being in a good mood, for a mere jab to the crone's belly.

Ruth, who seems withdrawn and cold, nonetheless is an exemplary wife and good mother to her three boys. Max treats her alternately as a lady and as a whore. Soon she is playing erotic games with her brothers-in-law.

Typical of the writing is Ruth's description of America: ``It's all rock. And sand. It stretches . . . so far . . . everywhere you look. And there's lots of insects there.'' The latter sentence is duly repeated after one of those infamous, pseudo-pregnant Pinteresque pauses. Not even cigars can stay in character: pronounced excellent one moment, they are decried as wretched soon after.
More here.

I've been told on occasion that I "think too much" about plays. This is from people who generally think much too little - but only thinking too much is considered a fault in our world.