Theater archives

The Collection and A Kind of Alaska–a Night Out With Harold Pinter


If you think your mornings are rough, try waking up after 29 years in a coma. In A Kind of Alaska, a 1982 one-act by Harold Pinter now (truly) revived by Atlantic Theater Company, Deborah (Lisa Emery) has been rescued from sleeping sickness by a new drug. When she caught the disease, she was 16; now she has opened her eyes and must comprehend that she’s 45. (Pinter was inspired by Oliver Sacks’s 1973 account of a world epidemic in 1916–17.)

The play holds few surprises but many subtleties. Emery’s performance, however, can only be described as a knockout. Holding her body taut like a coil preparing to spring, she evokes the urgent mania underneath Deborah’s bewilderment and insistent, girlish glee. When this newly awakened woman-child rises from her hospital bed for the first time, Emery’s laser focus makes the character’s terror transfixing; her awe and racing mind are radiant. The Collection, the shallow, stagy 1961 short completing this double bill (directed by Karen Kohlhaas), has not aged so well. Pinter thinly sketches two couples in early-’60s London who find their blank domestic lives intertwined—ominously, of course—by an infidelity that may or may not have taken place, which may or may not be engaging to watch.