The Birthday Party (play)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Birthday Party (1958) is the first full-length play by Harold Pinter and one of Pinter's best-known and most-frequently performed plays. After its hostile London reception almost ended Pinter's playwriting career, it went on to be considered "a classic". (Michael Billington)

Summary

The Birthday Party is about Stanley Webber, an erstwhile piano player in his 30s, who lives in a rundown boarding house, run by Meg and Petey Boles, in an English seaside town where two sinister strangers, Goldberg and McCann, arrive purportedly on his birthday and appear to have come looking for him, turn Stanley's apparently-innocuous birthday party organized by Meg into a nightmare.

Themes

According to Pinter's official biographer, Michael Billington, in Harold Pinter, echoing Pinter's own retrospective view of it, The Birthday Party is "a deeply political play about the individual's imperative need for resistance," yet, according to Billington, though he "doubts whether this was conscious on Pinter's part," it is also "a private, obsessive work about time past; about some vanished world, either real or idealised, into which all but one of the characters readily escapes. ... From the very outset, the defining quality of a Pinter play is not so much fear and menace –– though they are undoubtedly present –– as a yearning for some lost Eden as a refuge from the uncertain, miasmic present" (82).

As quoted by Arnold P. Hinchliffe, Polish critic Gregorz Sinko points out that in The Birthday Party "we see the destruction of the victim from the victim's own point of view: Template:Cquote

In an interview with Mel Gussow, which is about the 1988 Classic Stage Company production of The Birthday Party, later paired with Mountain Language in a 1989 CSC production, in both of which David Strathairn played Stanley, Gussow asked Pinter: "The Birthday Party has the same story as One for the Road?"

In responding to Gussow's question, Pinter refers to all three plays when he replies:

"It's the destruction of an individual, the independent voice of an individual. I believe that is precisely what the United States is doing to Nicaragua. It's a horrifying act. If you see child abuse, you recognize it and you're horrified. If you do it yourself, you apparently don't know what you're doing."

As Bob Bows observes in his review of the 2008 Germinal Stage Denver production, whereas at first " 'The Birthday Party' appears to be a straightforward story of a former working pianist now holed up in a decrepit boarding house," in this play as in his other plays, "behind the surface symbolism ... in the silence between the characters and their words, Pinter opens the door to another world, cogent and familiar: the part we hide from ourselves"; ultimately, "Whether we take Goldberg and McCann to be the devil and his agent or simply their earthly emissaries, the puppeteers of the church-state apparatus, or some variation thereof, Pinter's metaphor of a bizarre party bookended by birth and death is a compelling take on this blink-of-an-eye we call life."

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Birthday Party (play)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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