Lisa Emery and Larry Bryggman in A Kind of Alaska (photo by Ari MIntz)
The Collection & A Kind of Alaska
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Karen Kohlhaas
Starring Larry Bryggman, Lisa Emery, Rebecca Henderson, Matt McGrath, Darren Pettite
November 3-December 12, 2010
Atlantic Theater Company @ CSC, 136 East 13th Street
The menace hanging in the air during the pauses in Harold Pinter plays reaches its apogee in The Collection, a black-comic study of two couples—one straight, one gay—dealing with an adulterous affair that may or may not have happened.
In the first half of a grotesquely interesting Pinter double bill, his Collection characters crisscross one another stealthily and nastily throughout one of his chilliest studies of the worrisome turmoil in relationships. Well-acted by Larry Bryggman, Rebecca Henderson, Matt McGrath and Darren Pettite, the play still has an unwelcome staginess that director Karen Kohlhaas can’t overcome. With the two couples’ well-appointed London flats sitting side-by-side, the schematics of Pinter’s approach are obvious.
Less schematic and atypically affecting is A Kind of Alaska, the second part of the double bill. In this 30-minute one-acter, Pinter digs into an endlessly engrossing subject: a mysterious disease, described in Oliver Sacks’ book Awakenings, which causes those afflicted to remain in a sleep-like state for decades.
A Kind of Alaska (a simultaneously smart-alecky and poignant title) recounts the story of Deborah who, after 30-odd years asleep, suddenly awakens to find herself as a middle-aged woman whose doctor—who has married her younger sister—explains her condition. In a few touching monologues, Pinter has Deborah confront her unfathomable situation by denial, followed by tentative acceptance—exploring how one comes to grips with the loss of three decades of one’s life.
Lisa Emery’s captivating Deborah alternates gallows humor with bitter heartache. Her final monologue, when she eventually accepts her situation, is the most emotionally naked moment in Pinter’s mostly acidic career.