Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
I’ve no idea if Robert McNamara has been reading excerpts from Harold Pinter’s “vast tapestry of lies” speech before every performance of Scena Theatre’s evening of Pinter one-acts at the Warehouse, but he certainly should be. Though not listed in the program, the blistering remarks with which the playwright accepted his Nobel Prize last December are a wonderfully apt introduction to the three short plays—One for the Road (1984), Mountain Language (1988), and The New World Order (1991)—that followed them the night I attended. Pinter wrote, in an address he was too ill to deliver in person, of violence committed in the name of peace, of speech suppressed to defend democracy, of political imprisonment in the name of freedom, of the insidiousness of language that can accommodate those contradictions—and he did so with his customary bile and wit. The man is a master of the caustic phrase and of the pregnant pause, and McNamara gives both gifts their due in presenting highlights from the text. The dramas that follow, alas, are managed less compellingly onstage. The three plays are presented in the order in which they were written and ought really to have a cumulative effect, but instead, they fritter away an initial air of oppression. One for the Road is a series of interrogations conducted of a family by a business-suited sadist: first a man, bloodied and beaten, with toenails all too evidently ripped off, then his son, then his wife, and then the man again. Mountain Language is about women who have come to a prison to see loved ones being held there but who are told they can speak to them only in the language of their captors. The New World Order is a variation on the first play but with two interrogators tormenting a single blindfolded prisoner. Handled delicately, each of these plays could be devastating, but McNamara stages them as if they were cudgels to be used on a dim and uncomprehending audience. Prisoners react with undifferentiated terror; guards and interrogators are uniformly the sorts of monsters who probably spend their free time pulling the wings off flies. There are a few moments that register eerily in the first play—notably David Bryan Jackson’s controlled annoyance when confronted with a rambunctious child—but by the end of the evening, the menace has evaporated.—Bob Mondello