Unlike The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, now staples of the repertory, this play by the 2005 Nobel laureate is seldom mounted. (In conjunction with this production, the Harvard Film Archive is screening nine Pinter-scripted films plus a bio-documentary in the series “Harold Pinter: Stage to Screen,” May 13-30; Michael Atkinson’s review will appear in next week’s Phoenix.) Paul Benedict (Waiting for Guffman, TV’s The Jeffersons), who plays Hirst, says of stepping into the shoes of Gielgud and Richardson, “People are afraid, perhaps in the way that batters were afraid for a long time to follow Babe Ruth.”
The action is simple, though the undercurrents are not. The curtain rises on the two elderly men sharing whiskey and conversation in Hirst’s comfortable living room. Hirst has invited Spooner home for a nightcap. Although Spooner claims to be a poet and Hirst is an established writer, nothing is certain about the pair’s past lives. The first act ends when two young men — servants, perhaps, or relatives — burst in and take control.