Since 2005, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin have led a courageous group of underground theater artists in Minsk, Belarus. Their work together with director Vladimir Shcherban, under the banner of Belarus Free Theatre, includes producing original devised theater as well as presenting the work of emerging and recognized writers from Belarus and many other countries. In Europe’s last dictatorship, this simple act has meant they and their families have been blacklisted, beaten, jalied, and censored. They have seen their friends disappear, their families fired from state jobs and witnessed the bodies of murdered colleagues turn up unexplained. These facts alone merit that attention be paid. Yet what makes Being Harold Pinter, playing downtown as part of the Under the Radar Festival, such essential viewing is its scrupulously compelling dramaturgy: intercutting passages of Pinter’s controversial Nobel address with fragments from some of his bleaker explorations into man’s inhumanity to man. That might sound a bit dry – or worse, preachy – but it’s not; it’s compelling, putting Harold Pinter the citizen in the bullring with Harold Pinter the playwright. Before long, the battle spirals downwards into a circle of totalitarian hell. (Violence trumps language every time, don’t you know – and it’s startlingly clear why the government in Minsk would rather everyone involved just shut up and disappear already.) Even at rock bottom, however, Pinter seems to tell us there’s an ember of hope still to found in the dignity of man. Within this company of committed artists, it’s a fire.
We don’t need Julian Assange to remind us – or do we? – that one of the most damaging things about a country in which individual expression, the freedom of the press, art and public assembly are all curtailed unilaterally by the government is that the truth is compromised at every level. When any artist is kept from expanding what we think is humanly possible and meaningful, we are all responsible to help keep them free. To sign the Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus and Belarus Free Theatre, please text: Belarus (space) Your Name (space) Your Zip Code to 27138.