Review: THE BIRTHDAY PARTY at Kranzberg Black Box Theater

Harold Pinter's absurdist menacing comedy

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In the late 1950s, post-World War II, a group of playwrights emerged who penned plays with ambivalent plots of absurdist fiction that were widely open to audience interpretation. These plays relied on the dialogue of characters whose actions or reactions were defined by the other characters in their universe versus a traditional narrative driven plot. Out of this era emerged the work of British playwright Harold Pinter whose ominous works often contained themes of threat thus becoming characterized as 'comedy of menace.'

Albion Theatre's first show of their inaugural season is the Harold Pinter's menacing absurdist comedy THE BIRTHDAY PARTY. It is set in a small seaside boarding home run by Meg, an eccentrically dim woman and her husband Petey. Living with Meg and Petey is an edgy, unpredictable and easily annoyed boarder named Stanley. Petey arrives home from work to inform Meg that he met two mysterious men who will be joining them at their boarding house for a short stay. Their very intentional visit is to find Stanley who has been hiding out there with an unknown secret. In Pinter's THE BIRTHDAY PARTY audiences are left to discern the untold story surrounding Stanley's secret and why his past has caught up with him leaving many unanswered questions as they exit. Leaving one to wonder, was the objective Pinter's work simply to leave his audience feeling uneasy? While Pinter's script is intentionally vague regarding story details it does not diminish Albion's outstanding production of THE BIRTHDAY PARTY and superior work of the cast and crew.

Teresa Doggett is an eccentric delight in her dim portrayal of Meg, the matronly housemaster. Her fascination with her only boarder, her inability to comprehend his erratic behavior, and her unhealthy desire to please is captured perfectly in Doggett's interpretation of the character. Doggett plays Meg with an oblivious naiveté that is defined by her relationship with her husband Petey. Robert Ashton plays Petey with causal annoyance stemming from Meg's repetitive questioning about his satisfaction with his breakfast, what's in the newspaper, and how his day was at work. Ashton's expressive reactions to his wife's repeated questioning are amusing but also convey his awareness that Meg doesn't have the emotional intelligence to understand the looming threat between their boarder and the arriving visitors.

Ted Drury's performance as Stanley quickly establishes Pinter's menacing tone as he is less than tolerative of Meg and her fascination with him. His physicality, expressions and tics foreshadow the potential for a quick mental decline. It is when the two visitors arrive that his paranoia goes full tilt. With their entrance, the two visitors Goldberg and McCann, played by Chuck Winning and Nick Freed, heave a dark black cloud over the boarding house. While their identities or their business with Stanley are never fully revealed their presence is clearly marauding. Both Winning and McCann deliver devilish performances, but it is Freed's looming presence as McCann with his steely eyes and cold-blooded banter that really establishes the intimidating mood. The cast is rounded out by Summer Baer as the victimized twenty-something Lulu. Baer plays Lulu with the young innocence demanded by the role evoking the audience's sympathy in just the few short minutes she is on stage.

Albion's extraordinary production of Pinter's work is grounded in Suki Peter's sharp direction, brisk pacing and her collaboration with her actors. The performances she elicits from each of the cast members are balanced perfection. Her use of the space within Brad Slavik's smartly appointed period set design conveys the confined intimacy one would feel in an overcrowded small rundown boarding house. Marjorie Williamson's graphic & scenic design, Gwynneth Rausch's props and Tracy Newcomb's superb costume design all perfectly transport the audience back into the late 1950s.

Albion Theatre's outstanding staging of THE BIRTHDAY PARTY is an excellent start to their mission to explore the long and rich history of playwrighting in Great Britain and Ireland. For more information on their production of THE BIRTHDAY PARTY or the upcoming season, visit To purchase tickets for THE BIRTHDAY PARTY visit


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