“Being Harold Pinter” and the Belarus Free Theater

The situation in Belarus is not good for anyone not supporting the totalitarian government headed by Alexander Lukashenko. This has been the case for some time, but when Lukashenko announced that he had won reelection in the November 19, 2010 elections, numerous protests broke out. (Lukashenko claimed that he received about 80% of the votes; exist polls showed him closer to 35%.) The protests were dealt with decidedly, with a significant number of arrests.

One of the participants in response to the apparently fraudulent elections results was the small, illegal and unrecognized theater company, the Belarus Free Theatre, which put on a number of performances, including performances of “Being Harold Pinter”, written by Vladimir Scherban. As I learned last night at a reading of this play, the members of this illegal theater company all held other jobs, often at state owned theater companies. All fifteen actors at the company were arrested, sentenced for various periods of time, and dismissed by their state employers. (I also learned that 80% of Belarussians are employed in state run enterprises.)

Luckily, all were able to get out of Belarus, and to meet in New York, where they had previously scheduled investments, although each appears to have a different story as to how they were able to depart from their country. All are now wanted by the state security forces (still called the KGB) and would be jailed on their return.

To show solidarity with and gain visibility for the members of the Belarus Free Theater, audiences are attending performances by the original company in New York (and in February, in Chicago), while groups of actors elsewhere across the country are putting on staged readings of “Being Harold Pinter”. Last night, over 200 came to Theater J and the DC Jewish Community Center to see eight local actors perform.

“Being Harold Pinter” is primarily a compilation of scenes from a number of Pinter plays (including “The Homecoming”), and some letters from Belorussian prisoners, focusing on the goals and drives of a playwright, and the purposes of theater, including theater’s political purposes. It is a script that, more and more as the play progresses, is designed not to make a dictator’s regime very happy; it is provocative; it is comprehensible; and it is very, very good.

If you have a chance to see “Being Harold Pinter”, see it. To learn more about the Belarus Free Theater, go to http://www.dramaturg.org.

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