In their spectacular production of Harold Pinter's 1965 play, director Tom Ross and the Aurora Theater use the seemingly opaque script as a lens that brings into focus the characters' depravity and something entirely unexpected -- their humanity. As Jean Renoir put it, "In this world there is one terrible thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons." Pinter finds this not just terrible, but horrifyingly, grotesquely comic. Still, he doesn't explicitly assign reasons and motives to his creations, so the cast and director must. Ross and company do so with genius. As the family patriarch Max, Julian Lopez-Morillas' caved-in face is etched not just with age, but with envy, hate, and a howling, spitting anger. Occasionally, he dons a mask of deceitful civility, mouthing conventionalities of familial love and sharing false reminiscences of his dead wife, but in Lopez-Morillas' towering, breathtaking performance, the pain always shows through. Max lives with two of his sons, Lenny (Jonathan Rhys Williams, exuding an oily, corrupt malice) and Joey (Chad Fisk), and with his brother Sam (Chris Ayles). The four constantly -- sometimes violently -- navigate the minefields of mutual contempt upon which they live. Max's eldest son Teddy (the remarkable James Carpenter) and his wife Ruth (Rebecca Dines) are visiting home after six years away. Lenny hatches an obscene plan involving Ruth, which begins as a put-on, but becomes reality. Nowadays, myriad psychiatric labels would apply to Ruth, but Dines, who couldn't be better, captures the person underneath them, revealing without explaining the horrors in Ruth's psyche. Richard Olmsted's set has light spots on the wallpaper where pictures used to hang, suggesting a present in which everything is marked and scarred by the past; the play ends with Max's harrowing cry of anguish. I've always found Pinter to be evocative and mysterious, but I've never really found him to be moving until now. Tom Ross and his brilliant cast examine Pinter's twisted, shocking narrative, and find it to be about love, of all things.
Through May 7 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant, Berkeley. Admission is $25-28; call (510) 843-4822.