Pinter plays: from destruction to rebirth;
New York The three short Harold Pinter plays receiving their American premieres at the Manhattan Theatre Club under the title of ''Other Places'' reflect moods and circumstances ranging from the playful to the horrendous. The final work expresses a kind of compassion rarely encountered in a Pinter world. The acting throughout is exceptionally fine. ''Victoria Station,'' the opener, is an amusingly enigmatic fragment - a kind of Pinter splinter. In a fantastical two-way radio conversation, a taxi dispatcher (Henderson Forsythe) tries to get an elusive driver (Kevin Conway) to pick u p a fare at a famed railway terminal. The driver begins by claiming ignorance of Victoria Station and continues with a series of verbal flights that defy time, space, and logic. Instead of bringing him back to earth (and to Victoria Station), the dispatcher's furious tirades merely stimulate the driver's fancies. Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Conway play the Pinter game with a relish that celebrates in its own small way the freedom (and confusion) of communications. In ''One for the Road,'' Mr. Conway plays Nicolas,cq a ruthless authoritarian figure of a nameless police state. In a series of blandly brutal interviews, Nicolas piles psychological torture onto the physical pain previously suffered by Victor (Greg Martyn)cq and his wife, Gila (Caroline Lagerfelt). It is a harrowing piece of theater. The performance staged by Alan Schneider, who has directed all three plays, creates a sense of the horrors of totalitarian inquisitions as Nicolas consumes one glass after another of whiskey (''one for the road'') while verbally tormenting his wretched victims. The official's curt dismissal of Victor's inquiry about his little son (David George Polyak) hints at the destruction of the family decreed by a cruel regime. As a symbolic personification of cunning but mindless authoritarianism, Nicolas never specifies his prisoners' supposed offenses against the state. ''One for the Road'' is a frightening reminder of the crimes committed when freedom and justice are betrayed. By dramatic contrast, ''A Kind of Alaska'' reflects a quality of tenderness and compassion undoubtedly inspired by Dr. Oliver Sacks's ''Awakenings,'' on which it was based. In one of his most straightforward stage pieces, Mr. Pinter records such an awakening - that of a middle-aged woman from what is clinically described as ''statuesque Parkinson's disease.'' Deborah (Dianne Wiest)cq has been asleep for 29 years. The play deals with how she absorbs the shock of reawakening, solicitiously attended by the physician (Mr. Forsythe), who has been caring for her and by her equally concerned sister (Miss Lagerfelt). Far from being morbid, ''A Kind of Alaska'' is by turns touching and comic as Deborah reaches for reassurances in the childhood she recalls, while the doctor and sister quietly inform her of what has been happening. Using a voice lodged somewhere between youthfulness and unexpectedly acquired maturity, Miss Wiest portrays Deborah's growing awareness - the cherished remembrance of things long past, the astonished and incredulous yielding to an unrecognized present. The play's passing emotional eruptions lead to a denouement that is direct, simple, and affecting. Designer John Lee Beatty's arangements of panels create fitting enclosures for the segments of ''Other Places,'' which was costumed by Jess Goldstein and lighted by Rocky Greenberg.
Other Places. Three plays by Harold Pinter. Directed by Alan Schneider.