BWW Interview: Director Frank Corrado Betrays His Passion for Pinter

Actor, playwright, director, producer, and curator: Frank Corrado has sported just about every hat available in the theatre world. The Seattle-based Corrado has performed or directed in many of the most high-profile theatre venues in the US, but his true passion revolves around the work of playwright Harold Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

In advance of his directing Pinter's Betrayal, which opens June 3 at San Diego's North Coast Repertory Theatre (http://www.northcoastrep.org), Corrado discusses the origins of his Pinter zeal.

EM: How did you become so passionate about - even obsessed with - Pinter's work?

FC: Oddly, it was not a play but a film that brought Pinter into my life. My beloved, late sister Josephine would occasionally ask me to go along with her to "art films." On one such occasion, we went to see The Servant with Dirk Bogarde, James Fox and Sarah Miles. I found it a wicked delight and funny as hell. As the credits rolled, I learned that the screenplay, based on a Robin Maugham novel, had been written by Harold Pinter, who was already a world-famous playwright. I read as many Pinter plays as I could get my hands on. I found it all hugely entertaining. Two of my professors at Ohio Wesleyan helped me understand that among the great writers, Pinter held a unique sway. I began to act in plays, write them and direct there. I put together a double-bill of Pinter's The Room and The Lover, and found the transition from reading and studying Pinter to actually producing and directing him on stage an intoxicating experience. In short, I was hooked.

EM: Of your many positions - actor, playwright, director, producer and curator - in your four decades of working in theatre, which of these is closest to your soul?

FC: Good question, in the sense that I never thought of it myself. By far, most of my experience has been as an actor. Though I earned a MFA from the Iowa Playwright's Workshop, I've only had a couple of plays produced professionally. For about a decade beginning in the early eighties I went to the Other Side and wrote freelance criticism to supplement my actor's income (a few play reviews, more film and a lot of classical music writing--which is actually my 'true' passion in life). So just out of sheer body of work it would be as an actor that I have made whatever faint mark I may have made in this profession. I confess, however, that creating the staged reading series Pinter Fortnightly in Seattle was probably the thing I'm most proud of in my time haunting the theatrical precincts of the regions. In doing so I got to serve as actor, director, producer and curator in more or less equal measure. It was a particular--and unanticipated--pleasure to gradually build a wildly devoted audience lured over time to experience the full panoply of the Pinter "canon." It also brought me into close friendship with two people who were among Harold's intimates: Harry Burton and the great Henry Woolf. Their friendships endure and mean the world to me and to my wife--and great source of support and encouragement--Mary.

EM: Dare I risk asking such a fervent aficionado which Pinter play is your favorite?

FC: You may indeed. The role I would have most liked to play in my career but never did was Deeley in Old Times. I saw the original London production with Colin Blakeley, Dorothy Tutin and Vivien Merchant--still then Mrs. Pinter--and my memory is stilled bowled over by it. That said, twenty years ago I did get to play Robert in a fine production of Betrayal at Intiman in Seattle and loved doing that. And had a raucous good time in the Pinter Festival spewing hilarious venom all over the joint as Lambert in Celebration. I also played Hirst in No Man's Land in the Festival which was a great challenge indeed since I had seen Ralph Richardson in the original production when it came to New York in '76. I loved playing Duff in Landscape and Devlin in Ashes To Ashes. But I also love the "suppressed" The Hot House which worked to brilliant effect in the staged reading in which I acted. Curiously, I've never quite come to grips with The Homecoming which Michael Billington regards unequivocally as Harold's masterpiece. I don't. Of all of them, I think I am most "haunted" by a latish work, Moonlight, which I think is Harold's "play of old sorrow."

EM: Given your history of performing with North Coast Rep, notably in Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, how does it feel now to be directing Pinter's Betrayal?

FC: Daunting and gratifying. Daunting because I've discovered that Betrayal is far more complex than I had thought before, the backing and forthing in time being the least of it really. It's the remarkable and seemingly fathomless intimacies of behavior in all of the characters personalities and relationships that must be dealt with selectively, all the while remaining true, observant and authentic to the score of the writing. I say score because that is what it strikes me as being: verbal music. The gratifying part is simpler: superb actors, remarkably inventive scenic and design elements, and unwavering support from David Ellenstein, the very model of what an artistic director/producer should be.

EM: What, in your opinion, caused Pinter to construct Betrayal in reverse chronological order? How does this technique affect the dramatic impact of the play?

FC: It's hard to say what caused Harold to do anything, so organic, impetuous--in some cases--and 'exploratory' were his procedures where writing was concerned. But I think the idea of "looking back" is central to the aesthetic of the piece. It's no "new" news that in Betrayal Pinter was looking back on an affair that he himself had with Joan Bakewell, though Pinter would, not at all convincingly in my opinion, deny that. It should be stated, however, that while Betrayal 'goes backward' from the years 1977 to 1968, five of the nine scenes actually run in consecutive sequence. Complexities and ambiguities indeed.

EM: How much does an artist's personal life affect his or her choices in crafting drama and/or comedy?

FC: I think enormously. Otherwise it's mere icy intellectual muscle flexing. And even that would in some twisted way be lodged in some closet of his personal life. Virtually all of Pinter's plays are motivated by an image or an experience or a person he knew in "real life." It may have been just a moment he experienced or a conversation he overheard but the atomic particles of these things filtered through the fertile imagination of this unequivocal genius, coalesced and formed a new world of their own. It's endlessly fascinating to me.

EM: Other than your passion for Pinter, what factors motivated you to create your play-reading series, "Pinter Fortnightly", at ACT Theatre in Seattle?

FC: There were no others. That said, without the great support provided by ACT's Artistic Director Kurt Beattie and its Managing Director Carlo Scandiuzzi it probably would not have extended to twenty-five full evenings, and certainly the 2012 Festival would never have happened. I'll take some small credit in making Pinter something of an active curiosity, if not compelling interest, to a carefully cultivated audience. Seattle likes to bill itself as an unusually "literate" city. Compared to other places I've worked it's a more sophisticated--albeit dwindling in numbers--audience that is likely to respond positively to plays of genuine literary merit.

EM: What is it about the atmosphere in the "Emerald City" that has made it your home base for so many years?

FC: I moved to Seattle in 1981 fresh out of the Playwriting program at U. of Iowa. I had a fellowship to support a six-month residency at The (now sadly defunct) Empty Space Theatre, quite the cutting edge place then, that produced a lot of new plays. But it was only a matter of months before I began to get paying work acting in plays (even working in a new play written and directed by the great Mabou Mines visionary and wild man Lee Breuer). My wife and I had two beautiful baby girls and no money so getting the immediate, albeit modest, paycheck acting provided was important. Another beautiful baby girl arrived in 1985 and no matter how much we still longed for New York, where we originally came from, moving back there was financially prohibitive. Of course we'd made the sort of associations and friendships that tend to keep people put. And there certainly was a hell of a lot of theatre taking place there then. In some ways, Seattle in the 80s is what Chicago is now in terms of sheer numbers of theaters and variety of work. That situation has rather alarmingly changed in the last 15 to 20 years and the scene is now much diminished from what it once was. But I think of myself as semi-retired and Mary and I are looking to relocate to southern Vermont or New Hampshire, where she used to live, and shovel snow and swat away black flies in season.

EM: Thanks so much for your insights.

FC: Thanks for your interest.

Photo credits: Aaron Rumley, Chris Bennion, North Coast Rep

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