The setting and action of Pinter's "The Caretaker" are more familiar on the surface, but the terse dialogue in which no question is ever satisfactorily answered suffuses the atmosphere with a forbidding mystery.
When Aston asks Davies, the old man he has charitably invited into his room, "Where were you born then?," the response could hardly be more Pinteresque: "What do you mean?" The stage directions indicate that Davies says this "darkly," though Jonathan Pryce needs no such reminding in a performance that understands the territorial battle that's implicit whenever two strangers are placed in the same Pinter cage.
Only those with genuine erudition can wear it as lightly as Beckett and Pinter. Likewise, only those who have practiced their craft as intensely as they have can make such astonishing verbal precision seem so effortless. No narrowly focused professional theater school could ever prepare the way for this kind of artistic breakthrough, though perhaps the biographers of Beckett and Pinter would do us the service of inventorying their reading material during their apprenticeship years. The intellectual range would no doubt point out what our ubiquitous training programs (and I've taught in quite a few of them) are leaving out.
The looseness of so much of today's playwriting comes in no small part from the shift away from dramatic poetry to dramatic writing, a less medium-specific pursuit in which the "storyboarding" of plots is considered equally applicable to theater, film and television. What's important is a good yarn rather than a trenchant vision. The stage in this scheme is nothing but a steppingstone to a more remunerative opportunity.
Dramatic poets might not get rich, but they endure. They become part of a tradition in which poetry and philosophy merge before a grateful public. The legacy of Beckett and Pinter — alive in the works of Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill, Sam Shepard, Will Eno and Enda Walsh, among others — isn't in danger of going away. But the values they represent are in for an uphill fight.