We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
When anyone busts out the term ‘Pinteresque,’ it’s usually Harold Pinter’s use of silence they’re talking about. But that gives short shrift to the distinctive way Pinter bracketed those long pauses with intricate lingual whirligigs of ironic circumlocution. After all, it’s his dialogue, not its absence, that his characters employ to dazzle, to entice, or, frequently, to gut one another like fish.
1993’s Moonlight finds Pinter’s dialogue in fine, filleting form—much of it delivered in Studio Theatre’s production with particular caustic relish by Ted van Griethusen’s Andy as he lies in bed preparing for death. “What a wonderful woman you were,” he says to wife Bel (Sybil Lines). “You had such a great heart. You still have, of course. I can hear it from here, banging away.”
The fact that his estranged sons, played by Anatol Yusef and Tom Story, have not come to pay their last respects moves Andy to fury—though of course it’s not a long trip. “A sponging parasitical pair of ponces,” he fumes, “sucking on the tit of the State.”
Why the estrangement? And why are Andy’s drunk, indolent sons so drunk, so indolent, and so given to odd flights of circular verbal gamesmanship? And what of the ghost of Bridget (Libby Woodbridge), Andy’s teenage daughter, watching over all of them? What’s her story?
Those aren’t questions that Pinter or director Joy Zinoman are much interested in answering. So we the audience feel a lot like Andy himself, whose memory is slippery: We know that Something Has Happened to this family, and we can’t uncover its nature, so all we can do is absorb its repercussions.
Happily, Zinoman has filled those repercussions with small, lovely touches that connect the play’s action in ways its narrative won’t: Greithuysen and Yusef, father and son, briefly strike the same pose; Michael Philippi’s lights unite the actors under the same blue lunar glow; Debra Booth’s set isolates the characters from one another downstage, while upstage the same massive, crumbling wall looms over them all.
The performances are smart and unfussy, though you may wonder where Yusef’s sudden, feral anger comes from and what it’s really doing. You may also wonder, while you’re at it, why Zinoman chooses to introduce the characters of Maria (Catherine Flye) and Ralph (James Slaughter) on the same catwalk prowled by the dead Brigid, which makes them seem at first like fellow ghosts.
And there’s just something impassive and willfully abstruse about the way the production refuses to feed our narrative hunger that makes its ending seem…well, my seatmate put it better than I can:
“I knew it was over when the lights went out.”