It’s Friday, and I’m back in town and booming and zooming (but sensibly, you understand!). In today’s Wall Street Journal I review two off-Broadway shows, In the Continuum and the Atlantic Theater’s double bill
of Harold Pinter’s The Room and Celebration:
What is political theater? Sometimes, as in the case of such relentlessly preachy exercises in agree-or-you’re-evil propaganda as “Guantanamo” or “The God of Hell,” the answer is painfully clear. While these plays may be presented in an artful way, they typically use art as little more than a means to a political end, and thus tend to be both unserious and unpersuasive. On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible to create a serious work of art that is informed by politics. Heather Raffo did it in “Nine Parts of Desire,” her beautiful one-woman show about life in Iraq, and now Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter have done it with “In the Continuum,” a play whose subject matter–the effect of AIDS on black women in Africa and America–would seem at first glance to be wholly unpromising.
AIDS is notorious for bringing out the worst in issue-oriented playwrights, which is why I passed up “In the Continuum” when it opened at 59E59 last October. On paper it sounded like a parody of everything I like least about political theater, and it was only at the emphatic urging of friends whose taste I trust that I caught the show, which has since transferred to the Perry Street Theatre, one of Off Broadway’s most attractive performing spaces. They swore it was a must-see event, and sure enough, they were right….
Harold Pinter gave up playwriting for preaching many years ago. The most recent of his sermons, the hate-America-first rant he delivered last month after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, was so cringe-making that it undoubtedly led many younger playgoers–including more than a few who share his extreme views–to wonder whether he was ever any good. To them I suggest a trip to the Atlantic Theater, whose double bill of two one-act Pinter plays, “The Room” and “Celebration,” has been extended through Jan. 21. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a worthy introduction to the Pinter who matters….
No link, as usual, so kindly go to the nearest newsstand and fork out a dollar for a copy of the Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will provide you with instant access to the complete text of my review (along with lots of other art-related stories). It’s a fabulous deal–try it!