Thursday, September 7, 2023

Harold Pinter through the eyes of a gila monster

One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.  

Harold Pinter

It was supposed to be me time, away from my demanding day job resolving the discords of the universe- yes, time to exit my Mojave hut, tool out to the Lancaster Multiplex and watch National Theater Live's performance of Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land" (1975).  The play and acting were superb, but my review was not supposed to have had this title, and the experience was other than anticipated.

It's my own fault for telling Robert, my gila monster comrade, how great Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet was at the last National Theater Live event (live in the sense that it was recorded before a living audience).   I should back up and explain to new readers that Robert, like me, is telepathic.  Gilas at large are telepathic, but only Robert will communicate with me.  Most importantly, Robert has just come through a rough period in which his local clan tried to kill him for opening up to a human (keep reading for more on that).

Anyway, I foolishly mentioned to Robert that I was going into town to see the Pinter play, and how much I like these rare flashes of culture that light up the desert night out here in nowheresville, and he begged me to take him along. He said the stress of being rejected by his own kind had increased his interest in portrayals of human alienation, which he finds- in daily reviews of human culture telepathically scanned from the Palmdale Public Library- to be the principal theme of our literature.  I told him that while this made sense, there were laws against taking gila monsters into theaters.  He argued that I could smuggle him in, and I pointed out the obvious logistical difficulties in doing that. But Robert was insistent, claiming it was a matter of his survival, that he needed to see beyond his diminishing horizon, so I relented and found myself in a long line outside the Lancaster Multiplex last Friday evening with a gila monster tucked into my jacket.

The line was long, not for No Man's Land, but because also showing that night was an apocalyptic disaster film full of brilliant CGI renditions of monster-induced urban infrastructure collapse with attendant human death tolls. The theater was packed with teenagers who had come to see the world destroyed, presumably so they could rebuild it.  From behind my lapel Robert sniffed the air suspiciously, then muttered (telepathically):

Jesus, what is it with humans?  Why do your children crave movies showing your civilization wiped out?  Has your species lost the allegiance of its young?

That's a harsh way to put it.  Let's just say we're overbuilt and the young are restless for their arena.

I managed to get Robert through the teenage lines and down the hall, where an older, smaller, more sedate crowd walked through narrow doors to see Pinter, their thoughts and expectations, though psychologically akin to the landscape fracturing images next door, subdued and translated into the staid symbolism of the mature mind.  I felt accepting of this audience because I knew they would be quiet during the film, their attention interrupted only by scattered, plaintive chomping on buttered pop-corn.

I was ready for an unparalleled theatergoing experience, and that it was.  I had not realized how much on edge Robert was after his internecine struggle.  As I look back he might have been experiencing a sort of PTSD. I should have known.

Trouble started right away during the introductory sequence, in which the main actors, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, talk about how much they support local theater, because they had attended local theater in their youth and saw greats like John Gielgud and were inspired to become actors.

I was content to listen to this innocuous conversation, but a pulsing force within my half-zipped jacket began biting at my chest and voicing its growing discontent.

Harry, what is this shit?  I want the play.  Did you pay for this too?

What's the problem? 

I don't want to hear this, ok?  Gilas don't waste time 'talking'- they get to the good parts fast.

Why are you at a human play if you don't like talking?

I had said this out loud, so distracted had I become with Robert.  Several heads turned in anger; one lady "shushed" me.  

Robert, calm down please, I resumed in thought, What is so bad about talking about your feelings?

Robert eyed me.  What if someone sent you the feeling , 'I love you.'  Would you like that?

Hypothetically, yes.

Well, what if after sending the 'I love you' feeling they pontificated endlessly about love? During that time you would not possess the actual love in question. QED

Robert, shut up now, I'm trying to listen!  This part's almost over.

Robert lapsed into silent stillness, but there was a tension in his muscles that did not relent until we were well into the play, which he found fascinating and intense.  At times I felt his heart rate go up rapidly.  During one such episode he sent me this thought:

You crazy motherfuckers!  You are so lonely, so unable to figure out where you are or what you are supposed to do that you have gone insane and are about to commit species-wide suicide.  You sad motherfuckers!

I lashed back:

Robert, if you don't shut up I will take you out of here and come back tomorrow by myself!

He was silent for the rest of the play.  During the credits he was almost genial.

God what a terrifying play, he thought, an intimate peek into the ultimate loneliness of the male human mind.

Yes, Robert, that's perceptive: there are four males in the play, and no females.  The males, though they are rivals, band together to help each other get through the ordeals that await all men.

All human men, you mean.  Gilas of any gender keep each other company just by existing. We don't have to be 'compatible', whatever that is.

Yes, gilas are so great.  Now if you don't mind, Robert, I'd like to watch the after-show discussion with the actors.

Four sets of sharp claws dug into my ribs and I leaped up.  As the after-show discussion began, heads turned towards my muffled shout.  I did the only thing I could- I grabbed Robert around the throat and said,

I will strangle you on the spot if you don't calm down!  

Ok, I'm calm, Harry! 

his body then as still as a plaster cast.  He breathed slowly for a while, then asked, 

Why do you need to watch this part?

Why do you need to not watch it?

It's criticism, that's why.  I hate criticism.  I told you, I like the thing, not talking about it.

Fine, but why do you care so much you're risking euthanasia over it?

Look who's talking, and Robert actually poked his head out of my jacket (more stares, now with force and alarm),  I read your blog, Harry!  I know you were an English major in college.

So what?

You hated literary criticism so much you wrote a furious essay for your Augustan Lit professor, saying you wanted to study Jonathan Swift, not critics of Swift.

Robert, shut your reptilian face! I didn't come here to discuss the fruitless impulses of my youth!  I am sitting down now and listening to the after-show discussion.  I bought the ticket; you did not.

And with that I sat down- staring heads be damned- which was a mistake because Robert went berserk, tore himself out of my jacket- in the process slicing my shirt and flesh- jumped down to the aisle and dragged himself towards the front of the theater with surprising speed (gilas can't run), accompanied by shouts of shock and horror on either side. He clawed his way onto the narrow stage, turned once to spit disdainfully at the audience, then turned to the screen and began furiously scratching it, sending waves across its surface that distorted the actors' faces. I raced down the aisle, grabbed Robert by the tail and ran through the exit to the left of the stage.

Thankfully my car was nearby in the back lot.  I threw Robert in the trunk, slammed down the lid and told him to calm down or he would stay in there. As I drove to the nearest emergency room to tend to my cuts, we deconstructed the evening via the mental airwaves.

Ok, Robert, you're right, I did rebel against literary criticism: the way it canonized writers, dissected them as if they were timelines of historical labels instead of sentient observers, outside of time. You should feel an affinity with me.

No, you are used up, over!  The zest I thought I'd found in your intellect was a remnant from your past.

I suppose I should be more like you: an exiled lizard throwing a tantrum in another species' movie theater?

Gilas don't fear what they are.

Maybe they should.

I made Robert wait in the trunk for two hours while I searched for things to say to the exhausted ER staff, other than that you should never take a gila monster to a Harold Pinter play.