Audiences could not ask for a more divergent view of the work of recently named Nobel laureate Harold Pinter than this double bill of one-act plays. Directed with sure-handedness by Neil Pepe, these plays reveal Pinter at his bleakest and most gregarious while demonstrating his ability to craft characters and situations that are both attractively concrete and provocatively elusive.
Pinter's first play, "The Room," opens the evening. Set in a one-room flat (Walt Spangler provides extraordinarily specific environments) belonging to an older couple, Bert and Rose, it boasts many of the qualities that audiences have come to expect from Pinter: pauses (as compared to silences), and enigmatic situations that create a sense of danger at odds with the play's everyday setting.
While Rose prepares breakfast, she prattles on, flying from subject to subject, particularly her mistrust of a neighbor. Mary Beth Peil's felicity with the woman's thought process marvels. Throughout Peil ensures that each shift bears some relation to what has come previously or responds to her husband's (unspoken) needs (perfectly timed by Thomas Jay Ryan).
Questions about what is real in Rose's world are only heightened when the couple's landlord (a gently befuddled but somehow menacing Peter Maloney) and another couple (ably played by Kate Blumberg and David Pittu) show up seemingly from nowhere. Each makes allusions to a mysterious tenant, a blind man, who ultimately arrives (a delicious cameo by Earle Hyman) and calls sharply into question everything that we have assumed about Rose and Bert's reality.
"Celebration," one of Pinter's most recent plays, raises similar questions about couples' relationships and collective (and singular) memory. Here three couples dine at a posh restaurant, and while the milieu is infinitely glossier, the language boasts an almost forced jocularity; undercurrents of spousal distrust and manipulation linger throughout.
In "Celebration," Ryan, Blumberg, and Pittu all transform marvelously (Pittu in particular charms as an intrusive waiter with his own revisionist history). They are joined by Carolyn McCormick and Betsy Aidem playing a shrewd pair of coarse sisters and Patrick Breen as one sister's go-getter husband with a previously unknown past — a choice Pinter surprise in this delectable double bill.
Presented by and at Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., NYC. Dec. 5-Jan. 21. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 239-6200. Casting by Bernard Telsey Casting.