Good listening: rare one-acts by Albee, Pinter at Pacific Resident Theater


Way too much aural gobbledygook has littered our tender ears of late: Take, for example, these pithy words spoken by the aspiring* Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy:

mccarthy quoted by dana milbank in the washington post

This word salad tossed in diesel fuel reflects the immense decline in the quality of American public discourse, giving only one reason to run screaming (that’s loud!) to the theater. There, you have a hope of hearing proper English language spoken without need of a restraining order. Ideally, while listening, you will be moved.

Which brings our attention to Pacific Resident Theater‘s retrospective of two early one-act plays, one each by Edward Albee and Harold Pinter running in tandem, both first produced in 1960. Each mini-drama is the creation of a mid-century master of the argot — one American, one a Briton. The tools of their craft include vocabulary, measure and meter, rhyme and rhythm, searing impact and free-association. There may be humor and poetry. There may even be gaps left to the listener to fill in.

Edward Albee’s Fam and Yam, set in an upper Eastside penthouse, examines an encounter between two unnamed playwrights, one famous, one not. This brief curtain raiser is an eloquent example of Albee’s biting wit and incisive satire. In Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, two hitmen wait in a basement for their next assignment. Often called the best of Harold Pinter’s early plays, it combines the classic characteristics of early Pinter – a paucity of information and an atmosphere of menace, working-class small-talk in a claustrophobic setting – with an oblique but palpable political edge, and can be seen as containing the germ of Pinter’s entire dramatic oeuvre.

In his Los Angeles Times review of December 22, critic Charles McNulty addressed this point, hearkening the “cryptically precise language of two artists [Albee, Pinter] who were ushering in new styles of playwriting that would forever change how characters speak and act onstage.” Well, there you go. Check it out.

*Mr. McCarthy’s aspirational status time-stamped January 5, 2023, 11 am PST

Photos: Isabelle Barrymore, Myrna Gawryn

Fam and Yam / The Dumb Waiter | Pacific Resident Theater | Venice CA | Jan 25 – Feb 5

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