In Brief: Pinter in Memoriam:
The Rude Pundit's favorite moment in a Harold Pinter play comes at the end of Act 1 in No Man's Land, a 1975 work. Without explaining the plot, it's still an almost unbearably chilling scene, the perfect example of the playwright's "menace" on stage. It's this simple: one character, who is a thuggish bodyguard, tells an old man, who is a stranger in the house where he sits, "Listen. You know what it's like when you're in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I'll show you. It's like this..." And then he turns out the light. Since it's the end of the act, that means the lights go out in the theatre. So you are left, like the character, thinking about how it feels to be suddenly plunged into darkness.
The British Pinter, in his subtle, devastating works, illuminated a world where people were engaged in verbal (and sometimes physical) combat in order to cling to or assert power. Often, that power came from the outside to disrupt or even colonize a living space. In his most famous work, The Homecoming, a house of men ends up figuratively and literally on its knees to the woman who has come from America. In The Birthday Party, two men torture another man into a catatonic state before taking him away to an unknown fate. We do not know what the victim has done to bring the men to his boarding house.
For more on Pinter beyond the stage, read English PEN's note of mourning for the dead writer, who was also Vice-President of the organization and a tireless fighter for free speech rights around the world. And, of course, there's his 2005 Nobel Prize lecture, where he reached into America's pants and yanked off its balls. Finally, if you want to see the man in action as an actor, check out his performance in Samuel Beckett's Catastrophe, directed by David Mamet.
Harold Pinter knew that those with power will use that power. And while his life was devoted to fighting back, his work demonstrated again and again that ultimately, power corrupts and poisons even the most seemingly best-intentioned people. In the famous pauses he wrote into the dialogue of his plays, the silences were often filled with the internal choice of the characters to fight or submit. Unfortunately, the end result, as Pinter saw it, was usually the same.
(The Rude Pundit is in a hurry because he's heading south today, and he'll be writing from a Red State America that is a significantly lighter shade.)