Performers Under Stress (PUS) Closes Season with World Premiere of "Cancer Cells"--An Evening of Short Plays and Poems by Harold Pinter.

Performers Under Stress (PUS) closes its sixth season of critically acclaimed stage work in the Bay Area with the World Premiere of "Cancer Cells," a project uniting Harold Pinter's poetry and short theatrical work from his later, more politically focused era.  These are all seldom performed works, never before assembled on the same evening.  

PUS Artistic Director Scott Baker and Artistic Associate Geoff Bangs (who conceived the project) together helm this production which displays Pinter's insight into the whims of military power as they grow out of control and finally silence the life of the mind, like a cancer that destroys from within. "Cancer Cells" is a compilation of works by Mr. Pinter emphasizing topics about which he was passionate. Pinter's overtly political plays and sketches were written between 1980 and 2000. The program opens with a short poem, "Cancer Cells" performed by Valerie Fachman who shaved her head for this piece.  She looked just like the actress from the play Wit. Her silent body language was wonderful but she was practically inaudible.  

The following political plays by Pinter serve as a critique of oppression, torture and other abuses of human rights.  The first of the plays presented was "The New World Order," a dramatic sketch which provides "ten nerve wracking minutes" of two men threatening to torture a third man who is blindfolded, gagged and bound to a table.  This is followed by Pinter's look at "Democracy" beautifully rendered by Mindy Marie Vo.  

A much longer play, "Mountain Language" is divided into four parts. One-a prison wall; two-visitors room; three-voice in the darkness and four--visitors room.  Mountain Language concerns the Turkish suppression of the Kurdish language.  

Geoff Bangs gave a moving rendition of "Death May Be Aging"-another short poem by Pinter.  "Press Conference" followed with a dynamic performance by Valerie Fachman as the Minister of Culture.  Here Pinter dramatizes the interplay and conflict of opposing poles of involvement and disengagement as the Minister is interviewed by three reporters.  Nandini Minocha gives an energetic critical look at "American Football"-another of Pinter's poems.  

The last play presented is "One for the Road"--Pinter's first overtly political play. Gene Gerard Thomas gives an outstanding performance as Nicolas. The entire program ends with a young man, Carter Hartsough reciting "Death" in which Pinter merges both the personal and the political. 

Outstanding performances are given by Nandini Minocha in many roles--several different prison sergeants, a reporter, and "American football;" Mindy Marie Vo as Sarah Johnson in "Mountain Language," a reporter, as well as "Democracy" and Carlos Barrera in four different roles.

This production skillfully directed by Scott Baker and Geoff Bangs revolves around the unrelenting path power takes on innocence and existence as seen through the eyes of a cancer survivor and world humanitarian.  These two parallels draw magnetically toward one another as the pieces progress from shockingly inhuman to brutally hilarious and chillingly truthful.  

There is only one weekend left to catch "Cancer Cells" which is being performed at The Garage, 975 Howard Street, San Francisco.  Performances are Friday, May 20 at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. and a closing performance on Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets for all performances are available at and

Flora Lynn Isaacson