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December 26, 2008

This morning I'm thinking of Harold Pinter, the news of whose death on Wednesday December 24 I just learned having spent Christmas Day away from anything resembling a computer screen, iPhone or newspaper. The first image that comes to mind is that of the tree outside my office window. This tree is much larger than anything else in view. It's many branches are crooked, but there are brilliant grass-green leaves on the end of each one, even though it's the middle of winter. It's also an out-of-place tree -- one of the few on this very urban block in Oakland, California. It seems to blend in with the concrete and cars and street lamps, and yet it clearly stands out. If the tree disappeared tomorrow, I would lose the one aspect of the view from my window that rectifies the balance between nurture and nature, that beautifies the flawed.

Pinter always mocked the concreteness of life. His plays are like green shoots appearing through the cracks in a sidewalk. The tree is gone, but the branches are still there in the form of the playwright's far-reaching influence -- for instance, thousands of miles away from his London home, a group of playwrights in San Francisco created Pinteresque a few years ago. This medley of plays based on Pinter's The Lover had its highs and lows. What stood out for me was the great passion that all these American dramatists shared for their muse. It was a true celebration not just of one play, but also of the writer's famed taut style and seething sensibility.

I would have loved to have been in London to see Pinter perform his last stage role in Krapp's Last Tape a couple of years ago. It was the perfect role for an old tree of an artist such as Pinter -- Krapp is a man reduced to a gnarled husk above but whose roots spread deep and wide beneath.


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