Among the most precarious problems facing most theater companies is balancing the need to attract audiences with the urge to produce esoteric art.
Some playwrights straddle the line between entertainment and art. Harold Pinter's work doesn't. Theater gourmets revere Pinter, but his work leaves many people cold or even perplexed.
Evidence comes in the current excellent production of three short Pinter plays from Revolve Theatre Company. The first weekend performance drew only about a dozen people to Studio@620 in St. Petersburg.
The meager attendance was probably due, in part, to Revolve's being a new company, with only one previous show. By picking Pinter for its second production, the company seems to exclaim that it cares more about art than about commerce.
The evening's three plays — Ashes to Ashes, Victoria Station and A Kind of Alaska, in that order — are gathered under the unwieldy title Here's to You, Harold Pinter (The Late, Great Harold Pinter).
The plays are presented without sets, except for furniture, but with consistently elegant acting. Each piece has a different director (James Rayfield, David O'Hara and Chris Jackson, respectively), but the evening still feels cohesive.
Pinter's most widely known play is Betrayal, which runs backward in time. But most of his plays, including these, unfold in real time, so we're seeing one scene in the characters' lives.
Ashes to Ashes is an unsettling and disjointed conversation between a man and a woman (Meg Heimstead and Jackson) who could be man and wife or therapist and patient. Heimstead, excellent as always, elevates the piece with a subtle sense of terror and bewilderment as she recounts an incident that might have actually occurred or might have been an erotic nightmare.
Jackson returns in Victoria Station, the most unconventional of the pieces. He's a London cabdriver, speaking over the radio with a dispatcher who's alternately menacing and seductive.
The most impressive performance of the evening comes from Jessica Alexander in A Kind of Alaska. She's stunning as a woman who wakes up after nearly 30 years in a semi-coma.
All of these plays have an air of dread and isolation that the actors and directors realize beautifully. There's also wry humor in Pinter's writing, but the sparseness of the audience stifled laughter. Anyone who cares about local theater will hope that audiences grow as the production's run continues, or at least that Revolve doesn't get discouraged and will continue to produce challenging work.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.