From left: Mary Lang, Gregory Lush and T.A. Taylor

Review: The Birthday Party | Undermain Theatre

One Helluva Party

You'll laugh, cringe, applaud and whistle at Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, getting a pitch-perfect production at Undermain Theatre.

published Monday, May 7, 2012

Harold Pinter's classic black comedy The Birthday Party is 50 years old and still hammering the funny bone and socking it to the gut in Undermain Theatre's perfectly hilarious and terrifying ensemble production, directed by Patrick Kelly with style and nuance.

We drop from a parachute onto Planet Pinter and are instantly taken in by people who cajole, tease, complain, threaten, party-down and then go to bed or utterly bonkers.

In a third-rate seaside boarding house, Meg Boles (Mary Lang) and her husband Petey (T. A. Taylor) are finishing up their morning cornflakes when their only boarder, an unemployed piano player named Stanley Webber (Gregory Lush) shuffles in for breakfast. Petey's off to his job as a deck-chair attendant, while flirty Meg comes on to uptight and uninterested Stanley. Then two spooky strangers show up. Goldberg (Bruce DuBose) is the smooth-talking front man and McCann (Marcus D. Stimac) is his unsmiling Irish henchman. Meg decides to include these dubious characters in a birthday party for Stanley, who insists it isn't even his birthday! The bizarre and boozy party in the second act and the shocking aftermath in the third make for a raucous and revealing ride – fast and fascinating, the way you want a show to go.

Famously Pinter and vibrating with ambiguity, absurdity and angst, the play's characters are both strangely familiar and mysterious – and Kelly has assembled a brilliant cast for this party. Actors live for such roles because everything depends on the tone of the ordinary talk, the length of a pause, the lift of an eyebrow or thrust of a hip—plus the imaginative staying power to zip up a relentless Pinter body suit and stay in it for the duration.

Everybody is electricand audience laughter erupts suddenly as the sparks fly. DuBose is a smiling Goldberg, a natty, talkative pitchman in the role Pinter himself played. Sleazy and menacing, he mixes homeboy charm and oily flatteryand he's always in control. Whether seducing a willing woman with a slow smile, yakking it up with Petey or interrogating his blubbering witness with numbing questions, DuBose never loses his sure delivery and comic timing, even in the most violent scenes. His Goldberg is really awfuland awfully funny.

Stimac's McCann is a perfectly rigid, chisel-faced thug. Muscled and tense, he's a handsome, well-trained attack animal, eagerly awaiting the master's command. His very presence terrifies Stanley, especially watching McCann's biceps pulse while he meticulously shreds the newspaper to pieces, column by column. His face-to-face standoff with Stanley is a frightening and furiously funny sort of waltz you'll never see on any dance floor.

Lush, in a breakthrough performance, is a high-strung and trembling Stanley with huge, black-framed glasses and a jerky gait. He lies glibly about his career one moment, and then slams his face onto the kitchen table in frustration over the fried bread the next. Pretty Lulu (Katherine Bourne) is enticed when Stanley suddenly suggests she go away with him and wants to know where. But his whole body suddenly droops, when he admits, "There's nowhere to go." Lush is Everyman as a doubt-ridden bluffer with a bad hand, his back against the wall and always expecting to be caught in the act. I laughed at his bulging eyesand pitied him completely.

Lang's Meg is a wonderfully flirty and dowdy woman, mincing about her tacky boarding house with its ugly wallpaper, and wearing an apron with matching poppies. She's funniest when she's making stupid conversationand she, too, has a boisterous and boozy scene with the suddenly tamed pet thug.

John Arnone designed the homey, rundown boarding house with its atrocious wallpaper and a printed oilcloth stapled to the table. Giva Taylor's costumes pull it all together, with clothes that look like mid-century film clips. Thanks For Reading

View the Article Slideshow
Click or Swipe to close
One Helluva Party
You'll laugh, cringe, applaud and whistle at Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, getting a pitch-perfect production at Undermain Theatre.
by Martha Heimberg

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :