In a silvery-blue jacket and slacks, lithe British actor Julian Sands presented 90 minutes of readings from the poetry of and speeches by Harold Pinter as a fundraiser for the Odyssey Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 8. John Malkovich directed the reading, which will have a second showing on Sat., Jan. 14.
Sands, who's in his early 50s and best known for films such as The Killing Fields and Warlock, interpreted the literature with verve, peppering the poems about vacuity, enigmas, love, God and cricket with anecdotes and some of Pinter's political writings.
For all the inner psychological terrain of his work, the Nobel laureate playwright was outspoken to his dying day about social injustice and the brutalities inflicted by dictatorships and the Western democracies that support them.
Sands re-enacted a real-life incident in which he, as a student in his early 40s, interacted with Pinter as if the writer were a kind of god. Sands read from a poem of Pinter's and pointed out to him a "misprint" in the line: "Everything we do corrects the space between death, and me, and you." Sands questioned whether "corrects" wasn't supposed to be "connects" — to which Pinter urged him to just read the text and one day he might understand.
Pinter showed playwright Simon Gray his works for a first read, and when Gray failed to respond to a poem about cricket star Len Hutton (The entire poem: "I saw Len Hutton in his prime/Another time/another time"), Gray actually apologized, "I just haven't had time to finish it."
The reading was mostly taken from Pinter's Grove collection, Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics. Malkovich staged the actor, accentuating a fitful anger, interspersed with charm and a kind of reverent self-deprecation.
Both Pinter's view of an apathetic god and the cruelty of men congeal in the poem "God":
God looked into his secret heart
To find a word
To bless the living throng below.
But look and look as he might do
And begging ghosts to live again
But hearing no song in that room
He found with harshly burning pain
He had no blessing to bestow.
—Steven Leigh Morris
JULIAN SANDS IN A CLEBRATION OF HAROLD PINTER | Directed by John Malkovich | Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A. | Sat., Jan. 14, 8 p.m. | odysseytheatre.com