|Volume 92, Issue 67
Wednesday, January 27, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Some neurosis with your cake?
© Dipesh Mistry/Gazette
By Sara Martel
As the usual theatrical finalities are arranged to bring The Birthday Party to fruition, second-year arts student and director Jeff Glickman looks on with confidence in his cast, crew and the script itself. And so he should. All of these elements have come together to produce a solidly intriguing play.
Glickman, director of Barstool Words which appeared at Talbot last year, closely follows the original script of noted modernist playwright Harold Pinter. The play typifies the post-war literature of its time, pursuing such topics as neuroses, anxiety, the breakdown of human relationships and the absurdity of life.
The Birthday Party explores character Stanley Webber's lonely life in an English boarding-house. The story follows Stanley played strongly by fourth-year arts student Michael Longstaff through his frustration with meaningless exchanges and his loss of control. Stanley spirals into a catatonic existence which the audience recognizes as both neurotic and disturbingly familiar.
Realism tinges the play through its singular set of an austere boarding-house dining room. The six actors colour the stark background with their interjections, each bringing his or her own anger, confusion, nostalgia and fear. The setting successfully works with the play as Stanley's prison, highlighting his isolation and hopelessness.
The play reaches over to the realm of the absurd with bizarre action and poignant sounds. The presence of doleful violin solos, banging drums and spontaneous whistling constantly forces the audience to re-evaluate reality.
Further colouring the play is Pinter's dominant strength of language manipulation. Pinter masterfully deconstructs the language to show the eventual deconstruction of Stanley. The actors capitalize on this strength by delivering the often heavy and absurd dialogue smoothly and intensely.
Among the most notable scenes are the nonsensical interrogations of Stanley by characters Nat Goldberg and Dermott McCann, played by Richard Green and David Bjerkek respectively. A veritable tension is added by the powerful chemistry between the three actors.
This kind of absurdist dialogue is often difficult to tackle, but Glickman's production offers not one weak performance. Each actor gives his or her own unique flavour to the already individualistic characters. Particularly impressive is the debut performance of first-year Western science student Bjerkek.
What may prove frustrating for audiences is the constant grappling with the deeper meaning of the language and action. The Birthday Party by no means provides a tidy or thoughtless story. Theatre-goers need to be willing to explore the world of the absurd and challenge their own perceptions of reality and insanity.
The Birthday Party's ironic stretch between satisfaction and frustration, especially with the support of such solid performances, lends to the play's appeal and makes for a provocative expression of human isolation and the loss of control.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999