Belarus Free Theatre delivers a fearless and sobering ‘Being Harold Pinter’

A scene from “Being Harold Pinter”

Belarus Free Theatre’s Being Harold Pinter is political theatre to the core. These artists, who fled their country late last year to perform this piece in New York as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival, are risking it all for their art, and we must sit up and take notice.

Pinter, who was as much a sharp-minded political activist as he was a Nobel Prize-winning playwright, provides the inspiration for their outrage in this compact, 80-minute piece. Through an inspired mishmash of his work and speeches, these deeply passionate artists have found an intelligent and powerful way to speak out against the powers in charge — making their voices heard above the din of screaming and yelling protesters. Simple props make a huge impact: a paper plane dive-bombs a child’s head, a large, translucent tarp traps and suffocates, an apple gets smashed under the boot of an enraged soldier.

And then there’s the final moments, when they break away from Pinter and quietly tell their stories about the abuse, rape and torture they experienced as kids and adults by the hands of their government. It left me speechless.

However, the most thrilling moment for me was the response the audience gave this group — an instant standing ovation, and three curtain calls. We applaud their fearlessness and their passion. I can’t even begin to fathom what they’ve gone through to get here, and I think the least we can do is give them recognition for their brilliant work.

And a warning to all you slow readers out there: should you attend this thrilling piece of theatre, be prepared to keep up with the quickly moving English supertitles. Due to the rapid-fire delivery by the actors, I grew frustrated as my focus was drawn away from the action below and up at a projection screen.

A scene from “Being Harold Pinter”:

I’m trying something new for 2011 — a CTA Index Rating. I’m going to rate each show on a ten-point scale. This way, I will be able to more effectively track my theatre-going habits and history.

CTA Index Rating: 10 (This is what theatre is all about, people.)

“Being Harold Pinter” runs through tonight, Jan. 29, at the Goodman, and then runs at Northwestern University Feb. 4-13 and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre Feb. 18-20. Dates, times and ticket info here >

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