The Piss Take
‘The normal condition of things is uncertainty.’ –Richard Baird.
Dear Reader of extraordinarily good taste, we are talking about piss takes. Pinter is a grand champion of the piss take. Popular among London cabbies; the phrase ‘taking the piss’ is used mainly in England, Ireland, South Africa and Australia (and said migration should attest to how firm a part it is of British culture); ‘Taking the Piss’. Similar to ‘Taking the mickey’, or, as Stanley says, ‘taking the Michael’. (Although Richard claims the mickey is not as withering as the piss.) Call it what you will, Pinter loves the piss take. ‘Here’s the rule’, says Richard, ‘if I make it seem like I’m taking the piss out of you… I lose face.’ It’s always done with a smile. You are mocking someone, cruelly, but not acknowledging the mockery in any way. ‘Am I really succulent?’ Meg asks. ‘Oh you are’ replies Stanley, ‘I’d rather have you than a cold in the nose any day.’ A burn, would you agree? But said sweetly, with a smile, and Meg will even respond, ‘You’re just saying that,’ practically flattered. Though I wouldn’t say the response is normally that genuinely well received…
At any rate, that sweetness (with a smile) is as inherent in Pinter as the piss take. Dare I say… that love? We are talking about love. Pinter says his play The Homecoming is about love, and family, although that may not be ones first guess when introduced to it. I say that the more I study Pinter the more I see love all through his works. Love often seems (to me) to be the justification for a great deal of the menace Pinter’s synonymous with. I love you… So I’ll hurt you like this. Because why? Because you misunderstood me (and I love you), because you look like shit (and I love you), because I’m miserable and I can (because I love you), because you ate my specially made cheese roll… ‘That’s not equivocal, that’s unequivocal’ –Lenny, The Homecoming. (This is one of Richard’s favorite lines.)
When the first Homecoming cast came to America, they played to an audience that didn’t know what the hell was going on up there. At intermission, the cast went to Pinter, ‘they hate us!’ they said. ‘No’, Pinter proclaimed, ‘you need to go out there and think, no, we hate you!’ about that audience. And the cast did. And the audience loved them.
In his Nobel Prize speech, Pinter began by quoting himself from 1958 (the same year he wrote THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”
And in the Pinterlands at least, that’s ‘more than true. It’s a fact.’