Clarity is not commonly thought to be one of Harold Pinter’s signature virtues. But when his work is done right — and the penetrating British import production of “The Caretaker” starring two-time Tony winner Jonathan Pryce at San Francisco's Curran Theatre is nearly flawless — there’s a dreamlike lucidity that will have you seeing deep into the underground pathways of human nature.
When Pinter burst onto the British playwriting scene in the late 1950s, his enigmatic style proved exasperating to many of the day’s leading critics, who could tolerate mystery only if it came with an intelligible explanation, some moral or message they could comfortingly relay to their readers. Not given one, they grew frustrated by this cocky upstart whose characters spoke, as one impatient reviewer put it, in “non-sequiturs, half-gibberish and lunatic ravings.”
“The Caretaker,” which premiered in 1960, turned out to be Pinter’s breakthrough play, the work that inspired a new receptiveness to his dramatic tactics. Characters behave in ways that are every bit as opaque as the menacing festivities of his earlier play “The Birthday Party” (the flop that became a classic). But the psychology of “The Caretaker,” even when elusive, is too real to be dismissed as flamboyant gimmickry.