from UM student, Andrew Whipple
I was really honored to be able to attend the reading of Being Harold Pinter on January 17th at Theater J. My first reaction was feeling lucky: I had followed the plight of the Belarus Free Theatre in the various New York Times articles that had surfaced only in the weeks prior to the performance. These articles, about the government crackdown in the country and its affect on the BFT, struck an activist chord within me and I became very interested in and invested in the fate of the troupe.
While I recognized some segments of the narrative, such as the excerpt from “The Homecoming”, I was largely surprised by what the narrative, and lack thereof, had to offer. It was similar to navigating a maze; oftentimes I had to pick up whatever was possible to discern as a narrative through line and invest myself totally in the characterizations and relationships that were brought to life with immediacy on stage. This made for exciting theatre – a kind of structure that forced the audience to live within the moments of the play onstage.
I thought the varying performance styles of the cast contributed to the diversity of perspective that BFT seemed to reach for within the narrative of Being Harold Pinter. The most moving segment of the piece came near the end when real letters from Belarusian political prisoners were read. While this would seem to go against the grain, having nothing to do with the Pinter segments of the rest of the play, it did a startling job of contextualizing the entire play. By this, I mean to say that the themes of the play, the emotional journey of each actor in their respective segments, all of these elements eventually contributed to a larger message that was accentuated and articulated by the words of real life prisoners. I enjoyed greatly how the ground portrayed Pinter as a ringmaster, a grand orchestrator of this emancipation. And, in equal measure, his words were revelatory battle cries for Belarusians.
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And now the show has opened in Chicago, in a laudable city-wide effort to make a temporary home for the company.