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And F- You, Too!

That’s the closing line to one of Harold Pinter’s poems, one of many you can hear, at extraordinarily close range, at the Irish Repertory Theatre where the British actor Julian Sands is celebrating the British playwright, poet and political provocateur in a space the size of a utility closet. Sands brings great passion to his subject; he befriended Pinter late in the poet’s life, and was clearly overwhelmed by his presence and disarmed by the difference between the person and often quite direct poetry and the often deliberately-veiled theatre for which Pinter is more famous.

I confess to being a recent convert to Pinter the playwright myself, having avoided him for many years only to discover, when I first tried him, that he is very much my cup of tea indeed. (See here and here, for example.) I can’t say that I was similarly bowled over by the poetry – perhaps I missed the veiling. And some of the work is political in the worst sense – banging a familiar drum loudly, as if that will make it more persuasive. But there were definitely pieces that impressed me. Two that stuck out particularly were: “Death,” an ode to his father’s corpse:

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
or uncle or sister or mother or son
of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body?
Did you close both its eyes?
Did you bury the body?
Did you leave it abandoned?
Did you kiss the dead body?

And the short poem that Sands used to frame the evening, “I Know the Place”:

I know the place.
It is true.
Everything we do
Corrects the space
Between death and me
And you.

That’s very fine indeed. And Sands’s open enthusiasm – more, the level of commitment implied by an actor of his stature choosing to devote himself to mounting this piece in spaces like this – is thoroughly infectious. It’s very worth checking out.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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