Review of The Birthday Party at Albion Theatre

    “Theatre of Menace” is the critical term that aptly describes The Birthday Party and other plays by Harold Pinter. Both the comedy and the menace receive their due in the wonderful production by Albion Theatre.

    The comedy gets off to delightful start when Meg serves breakfast to her husband Petey in their nondescript house near the seacoast. Though a combination of vivid characterization and masterly timing, Robert Ashton as Petey and Teresa Doggett as Meg find a wealth of humor in an ordinary domestic scene.

    The combativeness of the conversation ratchets up when their one boarder, Stanley, comes down for breakfast. The shifting power dynamics are beautifully gauged by Ashton, Doggett, and Ted Drury as Stanley. The mismatched patterns of his clothes suggest a haphazardly led life that is reflected in Drury’s shrewd interpretation. The aptly characterizing costumes for Stanley and the others are by Tracey Newcomb.

    Stanley senses a threat when Meg tells him of the impending arrival of two men who asked Petey if they could stay for a couple of nights. The two men are played in ideally contrasting performances by Chuck Winning as the outgoing Goldberg and Nick Freed as the unsociable McCann. When Meg says of Stanley, “It’s his birthday today,” Goldberg decides there should be a party for Stanley, whether he likes it or not. It seems very likely that he won’t.

    The tension between Stanley and his two antagonists is obvious. The reason for the tension is opaque. The cat-and-mouse game is filled with comedy and menace in the gripping portrayals by Drury, Winning, and Freed. Summer Baer makes the most of the role of Lulu, a guest at the birthday party.

    Thanks to the superb performances under Suki Peters’ inspired direction, the play is gripping throughout. Uncertainties about the characters’ histories and their futures are of little consequence when their journeys onstage are so enthralling.

    The right setting for the action is admirably established by Brad Slavik’s set design, Anthony Anselmo’s lighting, Marjorie Williamson’s graphic and scenic design, Gwynneth Rausch’s props, and Michael Musgrave-Perkins’ sound. A special word must be said for the cast’s chilling execution in the game of blind man’s buff. The fight choreographer was Ryan Lawson-Maeske.

    The Birthday Party continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through March 26 in the Kranzberg Arts Center Black Box Theatre, 501 North Grand Boulevard.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by John Lamb
    From the left, Teresa Doggett as Meg, Ted Drury as Stanley, and Nick Freed as McCann in
    The Birthday Party.