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A CHRISTMAS CAROL This rendition of the Dickens classic, adapted and directed by Kevin von Feldt, is visually lavish, but it’s more grandiose than grand, inept and under-rehearsed, lurching when it ought to flow from scene to scene. It features an uncredited voice-over narration by the late John Gielgud, apparently lifted from an old recording. Christopher Lloyd is potentially a wonderful Scrooge, rendering his savage wit with ferocious delight, but he’s saddled with carrying a huge and unfocused production, and must often struggle valiantly to act his way through unsolved staging problems. (After the departure of the third spirit, he’s left to writhe and moan on the floor until a cumbersome set-change is completed.) Barry Cutler is an able Marley, but Jane Leeves seems wasted as Mrs. Cratchit, while John Goodman gamely hams his way through as the Spirit of Christmas Present. (Two announced stars, Gene Wilder and Jane Seymour, have disappeared from the roster.) The sets, by Jeff Hile and scenic artist Jaroslav Gebr, are so handsome and impressive they overwhelm the actors. And overly enthusiastic use of smoke machines twice engulfs the first ten rows of spectators in thick fog. Dress warmly, as chilly winds can make the theatre an icy wasteland. Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; thru Jan. 4. (213) 480-3232 or kodaktheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
HAROLD PINTER (1930-2008) The most fitting obituary for the second-greatest dramatist of the 20th century (behind Samuel Beckett, whom Pinter emulated) would be to say almost nothing, or perhaps something cryptic, or trivial, that’s mere ice on a lake of dread. Because the man from Hackney, who died Christmas Eve after a years-long fight with cancer, transformed the way characters speak on the stage, and his influence spilled over into film. If you remember the thugs in Pulp Fiction nattering on about the quality of a good hamburger while they’re preparing for a hit – that’s Harold Pinter’s direct influence. Before Harold Pinter, characters pretty much said what they meant. From Harold Pinter on, the central meaning of most plays flowed in the currents of subtext, the unspoken. And for plays like Pinter’s The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, or even Old Times, which marked his characters ascension from the working class, what was unspoken was brutish. If, in Beckett’s universe, we’re insects crawling around in the muck, struggling to fathom the unfathomable, spouting hard-wired cliches in old age that haven’t changed since childhood, brushing teeth every morning that rest loosely in bleeding gums, combing hair that’s falling out, dabbing ointment of hemorrhoids, and all the while clinging to some precarious belief that Godot is coming to save the day, Pinter localized that hell to a kind of penitentiary. His men are all either hit men of some sort, or being driven mad from trying to escape the clutches of the corrupt. And so little of this is spoken in any of his plays. Watching his plays is like watching the motion of lilies on a swamp, knowing that their movements, or enigmatic disappearances, are really from the force of the crocodiles beneath the surface. Pinter’s world is one of paranoia and betrayal. Yet he would not succumb to Beckettian ennui. So much of his energy and efforts were motivated by the most profound morality, and the indignation it aroused. He loathed the policies the United States government almost as much as loved the plays of Samuel Beckett. He was howling about our government’s meddling in Latin America a generation before Iraq — when we finally woke up to our government’s methods of torture in other lands that were the crocodiles swimming low, almost unseen, in the marshes of our prosperity. Pinter said it all from a wheelchair when he accepted the Nobel Prize, and of course many were offended. Even in England. His blend of metaphysics and politics paved the way for Arnold Wesker, Edward Bond and David Hare. But it won’t be Pinter’s politics that changed the world, even if he was right. It will be his plays. Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword, but that really depends on who’s holding the pen, and who’s holding the sword. When Pinter held the pen, the world shook a little.