Reviewed by Judy Richter
There's nothing festive about Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party," being given a sharp staging by Aurora Theatre Company. The honoree, Stanley (James Carpenter), is a strange, unemployed pianist who lives in a boarding house along the English coast. He claims it's not even his birthday. His landlady, Meg (Phoebe Moyer), is flirtatious and solicitous, while her husband, Petey (Chris Ayles), is a steady fellow who oversees the deck chairs at the beach.
The three of them seem to have settled into a somewhat comfortable routine that's disrupted by the arrival of two strangers, Goldberg (Julian López-Morillas) and McCann (Michael Ray Wisely). Both wear suits and look like businessmen, but Goldberg, the leader, is relaxed and cheerful while McCann, his subordinate, is nervous and taciturn. They say they're looking for a place to stay for a few days. It's soon apparent that they're not quite what they seem, for Stanley is terrified of them, and it also becomes apparent that they're after him for some unspecified transgression. The actual birthday party becomes a drunken debacle that includes Meg, Stanley, Goldberg, McCann and a sexy young neighbor, Lulu (Emily Jordan). Petey misses everything because he's at a chess game.
True to the Pinter style, it's never quite clear what's going on and why, but the air of menace and oppression is unmistakable. Director Tom Ross and his cast capture the play's nuances and undercurrents well. Carpenter is especially impressive as Stanley goes from what appears to be mere eccentricity and depression to fear and finally catatonia. All of the other actors also portray their characters' varied facets, aided by Richard Olmsted's set, Christopher Studley's lighting, Chris Houston's sound and Cassandra Carpenter's costumes.
It's a noteworthy production, well worth seeing and celebrating.