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The poetry of Harold Pinter, in a benefit for the homeless

December 8, 2009 | 10:15 am

This Wednesday, Julian Sands will channel a spirit. The British actor, known for his performances in “Warlock,” “Room With a View” and “24,” presents an evening of Harold Pinter’s poetry on Dec. 9 at the Odyssey Theatre. The reading will benefit the homeless of L.A.

JuliansandsIt’s a role Sands couldn’t refuse. In 2007, Pinter himself was planning to read the poems at a women’s shelter in London, but illness had weakened his speaking voice. He asked Sands to take over—and then proceeded to coach the actor on every line and pause.

“He was feeling his mortality very keenly and wanted these poems to reveal his interior,” remembers Sands. “He relished every moment with words, and wanted me to get it absolutely right. In spite of his illness, he had a burning energy. He was still on fire.” Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005, passed away on Christmas Eve in 2008.

Since then, Sands has read the poems several times.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Sands held the audience (which included Annette Bening and Joanne Kilmer) rapt as he read Pinter’s verse on the set of the Odyssey’s current production of “No Man’s Land” and reminisced about his time with the legendary British playwright, screenwriter and activist. Both poems and stories contain plenty of alcohol, profanity and wit.

Pinter’s poetry covers subjects from war to God to cricket. But the surprises here are his intimate love poems. “Who would have thought Harold Pinter would write the most tender and sensitive love poetry of the 20th century?” says Sands, who counts among his favorites “It is Here (for A),” dedicated to the writer’s second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. “In just a few lines, it evokes the whole point of being in a relationship,” says Sands. “It’s fantastically, almost intolerably, emotional.”

The actor, who played a memorable Percy Shelley in “Gothic,” admits to being a bit of a poetry fanatic. “I do a lot of mountain climbing, and always carry some poetry in my pack. Many a captive audience has been compelled to listen to my recitations above 10,000 feet because it’s too cold to leave the tent.”

For Sands, these readings are one way to pass on Pinter’s genius. “Quality endures. His work is amazing. It will be there as an undiscovered country for the next generation.”

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“The Poetry of Harold Pinter.” Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m. The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $20. Contact: (310) 477-2055.

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