No one made silence a more potent force in playwriting than the late Nobel Prize-winning author Harold Pinter.
In sinister, menacing works like “The Dumbwaiter,” “The Homecoming” and the pitch-black “The Birthday Party,” Pinter was a master of the unsaid, the unspoken, and terrible things implied.
Therefore, it will come as a great surprise to many enthusiasts of his drama that the man himself was, in the words of actor Julian Sands, “quite loving, capable of incredible intimacy.”
“Funny with a smart mind, and a deep care for humanity.”
That side of the renowned author will be on display when Sands, who is known for varied dramatic work including the romantic lead in James Ivory’s “A Room With a View” and a villainous turn in television’s “24,” takes the stage Friday to perform his one-man show “A Celebration of Harold Pinter” at the CAC.
Originally conceived as a recital for the playwright to perform at a charity event in 2005, the evening was to have featured Pinter reading aloud selections of his lesser-known literary love: poetry.
It was a wide swath of work that covered topics as diverse as sports, love and war, and it offered the dramatist a chance to display his other writing gifts.
However, Pinter took ill and approached Sands to take up the mantle of inhabiting the work.
Sands, an admirer and a friend, immediately jumped at the chance to collaborate with the author in crafting a picture of Pinter through his poems.
“It was conditional on spending time with him. Which, for me, was an incredible privilege.”
After the author died in 2008, Sands approached Pinter’s widow Antonia about performing the recital in Los Angeles for those wishing to honor Pinter’s memory. Rather than simply repeating the original event, Sands added comments from obituaries and friends of the writer to put the poetry into context.
One of the people at that recital was actor John Malkovich who felt a full evening of theater could be crafted from it, and he told Sands that when he ready to pursue the venture he would be willing to direct.
Sands eventually took him up on the offer, and the two actors created a show that maintained a great deal of the simplicity of the early recital.
“We are creating a word portrait of the writer,” said Sands.
From there, the show took on a life of its own.
It was premiered in 2011 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and since then it has performed at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York and been seen across The United States to high acclaim. Theater critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times called it “so touching, so appropriate.”
Crafting the show with Malkovich (the two had become friends while working on Roland Joffe’s 1983 film “The Killing Fields”), Sands found that he and his collaborator had similar approaches to working, albeit with different metaphors.
“For John, a play is like surfing. The actor is the surfer, the text the surfboard, the audience the waves. And John? He’s the life guard,” said Sands.
“For me, it’s more like John’s a conductor, and I am soloist with Harold’s words the music. And our discussions are the details of the interpretation.”
That interpretation is in a constant state of flux with Sands making “new discoveries” at each rendition.
“Each performance is organic, unique. The writer continues to reveal himself to me.” But the consistent element every time he revisits the work is, “the deep love he had for Antonia that is reflected in the poems he wrote for her.”
Ultimately, Sands believes that for all its intimacies, thoughts on love and metaphysical musings, “A Celebration” is, “a galvanizing evening of theater, an enjoyable arrangement, and I am excited to share it with an audience.”
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theater. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.