Julian Sands in Celebration of Harold Pinter

Asked to sub in at a charity event by an ailing Harold Pinter, the British actor Julian Sands not only helped out a friend for one occasion — after quite a few sessions spent with the playwright learning how his lines of prose and poetry should be delivered — but began a journey that now brings him to Houston for the John Malkovich-directed A Celebration of Harold Pinter.

Sands, whose movie work includes The Killing Fields, Oceans 13 and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, said he grew up studying the famous Nobel Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, director and actor and then “had the great privilege of working with him directly.” What’s most important, Sands said, is that Pinter, who died in 2008 and won the Tony Award for his play The Homecoming, “returned theater to its basic elements: a contained space, unpredictable dialogue and characters at the mercy of each other.” Those three things in combination generate the most compelling and powerful theater and at the same time can be wonderfully expressive of the human condition, very funny and very entertaining.” Pinter, who was brought up in the tradition of British musical theater, could be very funny, Sands said.

The 90-minute event has Sands performing some of Pinter’s work as well as including other people’s observations about Pinter as well as Sands’s own. Malkovich became involved after Pinter died, and Sands performed the reading again in Los Angeles as a tribute. Malkovich, who worked with Sands in The Killing Fields, told Sands, “We could work this into a legitimate theatrical experience.” What followed was a lot of work-shopping the script, Sands said. “John and I worked together to fashion the right balance. The prose, the stories, the anecdotes, what was conveyed and how it was conveyed.”

Sands comes onstage carrying a book. “Although I’m holding a book in my hand, I know it all. The book is a prop. It’s all in my head. I’m like a priest with a Bible; he knows his scripture. It’s a mix. I evoke him; I comment on his life. I’m telling the story of Harold Pinter, beginning, middle and end.”

7:30 p.m. Alley Theatre at the University of Houston, Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre, 4116 Elgin. For information, call 713‑220‑5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $10 to $49.
Mon., Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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