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 mega-sized urban infrastructure collapses 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
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:
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
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
Why do you need to not watch
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.
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
I suppose I should be more like
you: an exiled lizard throwing a tantrum in another species' movie
Gilas don't fear what they
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.