Wednesday January 24th 2018

“The Birthday Party”

birthday3Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party”, now onstage in the  Upstairs theater at Steppenwolf, is a man of genius when it comes to his characters and the locale that he sets them in. In this creative telling of a story about people who are facing their “day of reckoning”, skillfully directed by Austin Pendleton, we have a series of characters who may not be who or what they seem to be. This is what keeps our interest for three short act ( total run time 2 hours and 25 minutes-two intermissions). The set designed by Walt Spangler is far from what we see in the Upstairs theater as it has been redone to have the stage in the center of the room, with audience members on two sides and some of the action in the aisles. The room is a large dining room in a sea-side boarding house. This is where all the action takes place, in this, Pinter’s first full length play. It is clear that Pinter felt that each and every one of us has something to hide. The owners of this boarding house ( with only one resident) are Meg (Moira Harris) who it appears is a little crazy, but always concerned that everything be “nice” and  her husband Petey ( the always reliable John Mahoney). The one resident in their boarding house is a man named Stanley ( deftly handled by Ian Barford), a sort of recluse, who allegedly was a musician that traveled the world , but now, for almost a year, has been a guest in their home, never leaving the confines.

Then two men come by, Goldberg ( a powerful portrayal by Francis Guinana) and McCann ( another solid character developed by Marc Grapey). Who are these men and why are they thee? As the play develops, it turns out that they may be there looking for Stanley, who might not really be a man named Stanley, or for that matter, a pianist as well. But, in the web woven by Pinter, Goldberg and McCann might not really be who they appear to be. The other character in the story is Lulu ( the lovely Sophia Sinise), a neighbor friend of Meg’s, or is she? Is she Stanley’s girlfriend? Is she as guiltless as she seems?

It turns out, this day is Stanley’s birthday ( or is it?) and so Meg and the two visitors plan a party, which he wants no part of. Petey has plans and so he misses the festivities. There is drinking, games being played, both physical and mind and by the end of the evening all of the characters have done things they wish could be forgotten- but can they? That is part of the mystique of Pinter’s talent; and that is what makes this play a true “think Piece”. This is one hell of a night!

This is a play that is filled with contradictions and each of us may interpret the true meaning of Pinter’s story in our own way. We all fear the unknown and in this play, we do see that Stanley has an experience that will change his life, as does Lulu. In fact, almost each and every character does. Petey is probably the safest from the past and future. All the others go through a change or two that will alter the rest of their lives. There are many comic moments and  even more moments of tension and Pinter proves his ability to use language in a way that is astounding. This is not a play that will be enjoyed by all who see it, so those who are not into “talky” think pieces are probably better off not gong to this one. But, if you like to think and analyze, this is one that will give you plenty to talk about ( at the post show discussion) or on the way home or going for a drink on Halsted after the show. In fact, you may need that drink!birthday2

The acts do end abruptly, so, we the audience are not quite sure when Act one or Act two ends. In fact, the next act after the intermission just starts, so use you intermission time wisely. Josh Schmidt sound and original music as well as Matt Hawkins fight choreography truly make the entire package, just that, a package. Keith Parham’s lighting and Rachel Anne Healy’s costumes are the finishing touches, and yet, there is no mention in the program about the props person- they had a great number of wonderful items that truly are an important part of making this production complete.

“The Birthday Party” will continue at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre through April 28th .Tickets range from $20-$78 and can be purchased at the box office located at 1650 N. Halsted, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at where you can also see the complete schedule of performances and special events attached to this production.

There are special programs- 20 at $20 each day at 11 am. for that day only subject to availability; student tickets at $15 limited-online only using code “BIRTHDAY15”

Signed performance will be on March 31st at 7:30 p.m.

Audio described performance will be April 14th at 1:30 for a 3 p.m. performance

open captioned performance will be April 27th at 3 p.m.

To see what others say, visit , go to Review Round-Up and click at “Birthday Party”


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