Communicating how hard it is to communicate

October 18, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

In the 10 short works being presented under the title "The Portable Pinter" by the Performance Workshop Theatre Company, people talk at each other, past each other, about each other, but rarely to each other.

Harold Pinter is a playwright who is deeply suspicious of words. And yet words are the major tools with which he must convey the difficulty of communication.

At Fell's Point Corner Theatre, Marc Horwitz's direction is a bit broad at times for such subtle pieces, but he successfully emphasizes the communications gap and also manages to draw connections between certain playlets -- even when the characters within those playlets are unable to connect with each other.

In the first and longest piece, "Victoria Station," Horwitz points to the solitariness of the individual by turning the second character into a disembodied broadcast voice. Marlyn Robinson -- using an accent that wavers in and out of cockney -- portrays a taxi dispatcher, alone on the late shift, speaking to a cabby who doesn't always respond, or, when he does, doesn't understand her simple instructions. "I'm just talking into this machine, trying to make some sense out of our lives," the frustrated dispatcher says.

In the monologue "Special Offer," a Performance Workshop American premiere, a BBC employee discusses a business card advertising "Men for Sale." Martha Watt imbues the piece with added life by acting out the part of the woman who gave her the card. She then ends it with a touch of bemused irony when distaste and disbelief turn to prurient interest.

Horwitz connects this piece to "Interview" by having Watt portray a reporter interviewing the paranoid owner of a pornographic bookstore, played by Horwitz as a mole-like creature. The relationship between the two works emphasizes their shared themes of distrust and covert sexuality.

Of the other pieces, one of the most amusing is "Trouble in the Works," derived from Pinter's experience working a single day as a clerk in a factory that manufactured machine parts with silly-sounding names like "high speed taper shank spiral flute reamer" and "hemi unibal spherical rod end." As performed by Joseph Valadez and Horwitz, it could be a skit from "Saturday Night Live" if Valadez, as the boss, didn't suffer from the same desperation that overtakes Robinson's character in "Victoria Station."

The entire evening lasts just over an hour and feels a little like driving through a neighborhood and catching snippets of people's lives behind lighted windows. Because they are Pinter people, what they reveal is often cryptic, but it is also eerily recognizable.

'The Portable Pinter'

Where: Performance Workshop Theatre Company at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 26

Tickets: $10 and $11

` Call: 410-659-7830

Pub Date: 10/18/97

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