UPPER JAY - After reading Harold Pinter's play "Old Times," at least half the room at the Recovery Lounge on a recent Wednesday evening thought most of the characters were either dead or imaginary, and the rest of the room thought they were as real as could be.
Because Pinter's plays are sometimes difficult to figure out, Recovery Lounge Artistic Director Scott Renderer decided it would be useful and interesting to hold a seven-week series of seminars on the playwright's works.
The seminars are in conjunction with Renderer's production of the Pinter play "The Birthday Party," which opens its two-week run on July 26.
A group discusses the Harold Pinter play called “Old Times” at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay last week.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Renderer is directing and acting in the play, and he thought running the seminars would be a good way for him to push himself to learn more about Pinter.
"It helps me in understanding the play I'm directing," Renderer said.
While much of Pinter's work initially may seem mysterious, with characters changing their memories and not having clear motivations or conversations, Renderer said getting familiar with the playwright's biography helps. He said many of Pinter's themes of loneliness, loss, us vs. them attitudes, abuses of power and the arbitrary nature of authority can be traced back to the playwright's childhood, when he was evacuated from London during World War II and the anti-Semitism he experienced after war.
If you go ...
What: "The Birthday Party" by Harold Pinter
When: 8 p.m. July 26-29, Aug. 2-5
How much: $18
To reserve tickets: Call 518-946-8315
For more information: Visit www.upperjayartcenter.org
In addition to helping his own understanding of Pinter, Renderer also thought holding the seminars would help to put a friendlier face on the challenging playwright for members of the local community, helping others to understand his work as well.
It's the first time Renderer has run seminars like this, but he said he hopes to do more like it in the future.
Saranac Laker Shamim Allen, who was in attendance for the "Old Times" discussion, has attended some of the seminars. She had never heard of Pinter before, but she said she has a lot of respect for Renderer's opinion.
"I thought anybody willing to commit to seven weeks of studying this playwright, he must be worth it," Allen said.
Since she's read a few Pinter plays, Allen said she's become a big fan. She compares him to the films of John Cassavettes, and calls the style "hardcore realism."
"I like truth more than I like wrapping things up in a nice package," Allen said. "It's not pretty."
She said she's been enjoying the seminars, because they give her the opportunity to see the plays in a different light. Her reading of the play "The Homecoming" didn't give her the impression that it was a feminist play, but some of the other women brought to light some of the feminist interpretations of a key scene.
Renderer and Upper Jay resident Robert Segall also have brought to light a number of the influences of Jewish culture on Pinter's plays. Without their thoughts, Allen said she thought some of the characters were just being jerks, but their input made her realize that some of the things they did and said had deep background in Jewish culture.
Segall decided to participate in the seminars because he thought they might be intellectually challenging, and they have met that expectation, he said. He also had never read any Pinter before.
"It's been very enlightening," Segall said.
Segall said he had a hard time slogging through "Old Times." He said he found it boring and didn't understand it.
"The other plays, there was something more concrete about the language," Segall said.
After the discussion, he said he still didn't have a great grasp on the play, but he could see it as poetic. At the end of the session, everyone agreed that they couldn't figure out the meaning behind the show's closing monologue by a previously quiet character in which she talks to her friend about remembering seeing her dead and dirty, and trying to smear dirt on a man's face. Though they didn't necessarily understand its meaning, though, they said they could envision it being a powerful speech when performed with the raw emotion it implied.
"Pinter is not easy," Segall said. "It's not like reading 'Our Town' or something like that."