Ashes to Ashes by Harold Pinter
(Grove Press, 1996, 85 pages)
This one act play by Harold Pinter is sparse and startling. It drops us into the middle of a disturbing conversation between Devlin and Rebecca (presumably husband and wife) in the living room of a country home. It begins as an angry interrogation of Rebecca about a former lover. Rebecca describes violently abusive encounters. As Devlin pushes for more information, the conversation takes strange and dark turns. Devlin does not get the answers he wants, and, as a reader, I could feel his frustration as I tried to make sense of Rebecca’s non sequitur responses.
The play was published in 1996, and the title page says that the time is “Now.” However, the traumas that Rebecca relives in their conversation begin to sound like the stories of a Holocaust survivor. This brings up all kinds of questions: Is Rebecca sane? Is the mysterious figure she describes real? Is there something more going on here than a recounting of personal history? The play is a strange mix of deeply personal themes and broader themes that appear to speak to the traumas of European history.
The play could be performed in under an hour, and it can be read in less. That said, it isn’t an easy read. The drama and tension of the relationship between these two characters is immediately gripping – but trying to figure out just what this drama consists of is far from simple.