"Truth in drama is forever elusive," wrote Harold Pinter in his incisive speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Indeed, part of what makes his plays so fascinating is the way in which the truth eludes his bewildered characters, who thrash about uncomfortably in a world of menacing darkness and latent ferocity. Pinter's one act play The Collection, currently on view in a first-rate production by the Atlantic Theater Company, revels in this slippery uncertainty. Written in 1961, it concerns two couples, James and Stella and Harry and Bill. Stella, a dress designer who lives in a mod apartment with her husband and business partner James, may have had a fling with Bill, who is also a designer and lives with the much older Harry in his posh house in Belgravia. The evening's unease begins with a chilling phone call placed by James (from a classic British phone booth above the stage) to Harry's house. He's convinced Bill has made a cuckold of him, and he wants... something.

Meticulously directed by Karen Kohlhaas, The Collection slides in and out of "the truth" like a snake shedding one stylish skin after another. (The costumes, incidentally, are a delicious mix of dandy foppishness and slick mod.) James finally manages to corner Bill and bully one story out of him, but as James develops a peculiar friendship his rival, several more versions of what happened between Bill and his wife tumble out. Darren Pettie, who was terrific last season in Melissa James Gibson's This, is thrilling as James—always on the verge of some unpredictable act of vengeance but never quite crossing the threshold. The entire ensemble, which also features Matt McGrath (Bill), Larry Bryggman (Harry), and Rebecca Henderson, deftly articulates the nuances of Pinter's civilized savagery, personifying life's potentially maddening ambiguity with a pitch-perfect tone of humor and dread.

The humor has seeped away but the dread remains for the evening's shorter second act, A Kind of Alaska, which Pinter wrote in 1982 and was inspired by Oliver Sacks's Awakenings, about victims of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica (sleeping sickness) epidemic. Lisa Emery plays Deborah, who has just emerged from 29 years in a sort of ambulatory coma. This is more straightforward than The Collection, but it makes for a fitting companion, in that it focuses the first act's atmosphere of apprehension through a more specific lens. Bryggman returns as Deborah's doctor, who has cared for her over the course of three decades since she first fell ill at 16. As he patiently tries to explain where she's "been," Emery pinballs stunningly through a wide spectrum of reactions, from disbelief to giddiness to terror. As she struggles to comprehend the inexplicable nightmare that has swept away her youth, it's impossible to avoid glimpsing your own reflection in her shocked and desperate eyes.

This is the first major revival of Pinter's plays in NYC since his death in 2008 on Christmas Eve, an occasion which one former blog publisher marked by dismissing the playwright as "a salon leftist with a reflexive and increasingly dated hostility to the United States." It's true that in his last years Pinter's unbridled contempt for Bush and Blair's foreign policy began to overshadow his artistic achievements (at least in the way the media framed him). So it's doubly satisfying that this production demonstrates how even in his less-well known plays, Pinter was a writer of incomparable lucidity; capable of enthralling audiences regardless of their politics.