Harold Pinter’s plays famously hint at something ominous below the surface of dialogue that poetically chases itself around but ends up nowhere (“They believe in me.”—”Who do?”—”They do. What do you mean, who do? They do.”—”Oh, do they?”). Yet the Pinter production currently playing at A Red Orchid Incubator is so intensified by visual and sonic vibrancy that the vague sense of anxiety, lurking below the vapid lines, becomes a visceral experience. This clash of sound, sight and dialogue makes director dado’s production of “Celebration” (2000) wickedly more absurd than what any normal person could ever imagine while reading the script (Pinter’s last for the stage).
Throughout the hour-long play, three couples trace disturbing power dynamics (“But darling, that’s naked aggression. He doesn’t normally go in for naked aggression. He usually disguises it under honeyed words.”), lose themselves in tangents or fall into memories that hint at perverse pasts. Although the play lacks any ostensible plot, the actors fill up their characters with such vulgarity and vapidity that the disgust you feel will compel you through to the very end.
Mauricio Kagel’s music (directed by John Corkill and Alex Monroe) gallops through tense scenes, amplifying blackouts and the notorious Pinter Pauses. The stage is a visual feast: carrot shavings served to the diners, plastic orange watches hugging the men’s wrists, stage lights streaming through wine glasses full of hot orange liquid, orange lipstick accumulating gradually all over the actors’ faces…
The auditory and visual fuse at particularly poignant points, such as when two waiters hold wine bottles up high, harmoniously pouring rice over an arrangement of cowbells. Moments like this grace the performance with sensual pauses, grabbing unexpectedly at the audience’s heartstrings before jolting back into the busy emptiness of Pinter’s dialogue.
You want to see this, trust me, you do. Not only will you immediately feel better about your last OkCupid date, but you’ll find yourself so caught up in the absurdity that when the maitre d’s closing monologue hits, brilliantly delivered by Stephen Walker, you’ll feel a rush of emotion, unavoidable and sweet, reassuring you that you are nothing like any of the jerks on stage. (Joy Miller)
A Red Orchid Incubator at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells, (312)943-8722, aredorchidtheatre.org. $10. Through August 15.