Sex and Death: A Night with Harold Pinter
Through March 26 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), S.F. $35; 407-3214 or www.offbroadwaywest.org,
Neither The Dumbwaiter nor The Lover can be numbered among Harold Pinter's major works. So it's understandable that Off Broadway West has packaged these one-act plays together under a new name: Sex and Death: A Night with Harold Pinter. The title and pairing are apt, but not perfect. As directed by Cecelia Palmtag, The Lover (a tale of infidelity) often seems more violent than The Dumbwaiter (a tale of two gangsters, directed by Durand Garcia). Like most Pinter plays, they can be played equally well for comic or dramatic effect. The results here are uneven, with Garcia and Palmtag going their own ways on tone, timing, and intensity. The "Death" portion of the evening has its charms, but suffers in part because the central conceit — two men in a room being given nonsensical instructions from an unknown source about a job they're supposed to do — has become something of an avant-garde trope since Pinter wrote it in 1959. The Lover, from 1962, hasn't as successfully infiltrated the culture and so, paradoxically, has aged better. It's hardly a new take on adultery, but it definitely surprises. If you're up for a lot of intensity and the occasional shrug, you'll enjoy rooting through Pinter's work.