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When I found out that an evening of Harold Pinter plays was going to be performed in the basement of an apartment building at that defiantly urban corner of Broadway and Lawrence, where latte-sipping hipsters mix it up with both drunken alt-rock fans stumbling out of the Aragon theater, and gang members who still ply their procure and pay trades in the dark alleys of Uptown, I said I’m there!  The intrepid Slimtack Theatre Co. had a lot of buzz five years ago with their production of John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.  Staged in Artistic Director Mike Rice’s second floor apartment in the same Uptown building, the audience moved from room to room as the play progressed, and at one point, the lead actor leapt onto the ledge outside the apartment to perform a scene, naked as a jaybird, jolting all the hipsters, sweaty drunks, and gang members trolling below.  But the theater group disappeared for a while, and has now resurfaced, literally underground, with Death to Fascism, Freedom for my People:  A Basement of One Acts by Harold Pinter, an hour long collection of late Pinter works, directed by Rice, which share a theme around the use, misuse, or non-use of language in authoritarian societies.

With all due respect to the late Nobel Prize-winning Mr. Pinter, I think the subject matter is more powerfully and more intricately tackled in one of my favorite movies of 2009, Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective.  The longest one-act, “Mountain Language”, about the suppression of a minority group’s language and culture by the majority group in power in an unnamed police state, is quite unsubtly written, with big, booming, hammering points about oppression and social injustice.  The cast, though, including the always mesmerizing Sarah Gitenstein, give it their enthusiastic all.  I liked “One For the Road” a lot, in which a slick government interrogator (a part Pinter himself played in the 2001 Lincoln Center Pinter festival) alternately seduces, menaces, cajoles, and threatens a family (father, mother, and pre-pubescent son) who’ve been made political prisoners in their own home.  But I’m not really sure if it is the writing, which intersperses intriguing word play with its heavy hand, or it is Trey Maclin’s riveting, meticulously detailed, totally lived-in performance as the functionary, which makes this one engaging.  I also liked the shortest one-act, “The New World Order”, in which two guards harass a bound and blindfolded prisoner with threats about his unseen wife, but the short duration doesn’t allow it to build any lasting suspense.

These may be minor Pinters, but Rice’s staging makes Death to Fascism a must-experience evening.  The basement setting, with the dusty, unfinished floor, the shadowy corners, the dim lighting, the suffocating low ceilings, the sinister-sounding repetitive hisses of the water pipes, gives a unique environmental amplification to the horrors and suffering buried in Pinter’s texts.  As you sit in that space, you, at times, feel as terrified, as imprisoned, as helpless as his characters, a striking, uncomfortable empathy.  In this hour in an Uptown basement, there is so much more unforgettable theater than in three hours of Johnstown Floods at the Goodman. 

Death to Fascism…is unmissable!  You never know when or where Slimtack will re-appear so run and see one of the more impressive storefront theaters in the city.  The play runs every Friday and Sunday at 9 pm until May 1, and it’s pay what you can.  Call 773-469-5608 for ticket reservations.

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