No Man's Land

by Harold Pinter

Director’s Notes, March 2017

Harold Pinter’s plays have always scared me to death. Where do you begin? Where do you end? Is there an end? Is there a beginning? My first drama teacher described Pinter as the “first cubist playwright” because of the way his plays can appear to be one thing, then another, only to morph into something else if you looked away for but a second. It was a truth that took me twenty years to appreciate. As a trueborn Brit I thought I had an innate understanding of the hidden codes and customs woven into the mannerisms of characters that couldn’t be more British, yet when rehearsals finally arrived I walked into the room like a child. For four interminable hours I stumbled around unable to make sense of the silences and pauses that are as much a part of a Pinter play as his dialogue. It was literally theatrical hell on earth. Yet later that evening I left that same room with in tears in my eyes at the play’s extraordinary humor and pathos. It was Pinter at his very best and a play that he had described as “an attempt to delight and disturb, hopefully at the same time.” Mission accomplished.  

It’s easy to assume that the next great playwright will always show up, that no matter how accustomed the world becomes to looking the other way when life gets ugly, there will always be a playwright to voice our fears and show us the way. But I dare you to find a playwright working today that can portray the human condition with all its warts and miracles as Pinter did for almost fifty years. He was a playwright, poet, actor, director, screenwriter, and one of the most original, stylish and enigmatic artists of the 20th century. His like will never come again.

-michael french