"The Pinter/Albee Duet"

Each playwright packs plenty of fierce eloquence into a single devastating act

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Through May 30

Tickets are $20-25

861-5079

www.ther hino.org

Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F.

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Theatre Rhinoceros mounts a double feature of civil savagery from two modern masters of English dramaturgy. Edward Albee's The Zoo Story and Harold Pinter's The Collection are among both playwrights' early works, in which each hones his linguistic gifts and packs plenty of fierce eloquence into a single devastating act. In The Zoo Story, Jerry, a lucid lunatic groping for human contact, invades Peter's park-bench private time and rattles his orderly life. In The Collection, a gay couple (Harry and Bill) receive an unexpected visitor claiming one of them has slept with his wife. Director Neal H. Shorstein is able to honor the authors' atmospheres of menace and manipulation without obscuring their fundamentally humane intentions. Calling the show a duet promises harmony; in both plays, chance encounters become collisions of worlds, culminating in a sexually charged confrontation at knifepoint (Shorstein turns a limited prop budget into a clever visual rhyme by using the same knife twice). There's some evisceration, yes, but it's done with language. Tim Hendrixson (Jerry and Harry, respectively) anchors the cast, setting an example of how to own the material by inhabiting an inner life. Both plays ripple with hilarity and tragedy, and it doesn't diminish the company to suggest that a given evening's mood might depend on which way an audience prefers to go.

 
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