According to the back cover of my copy of this short play, “In The Birthday Party, a musician escapes to a dilapidated boarding house, where he falls victim to the shadowy, ritualized violence of two men who have followed him from his sinister past.” I know, sounds like a great read from the start, right? I found this caption intriguing enough to want to find out who this character is and what happened in his past, but after reading the play, I know just about as much as when I began.
The entire play takes place at a boarding house where we witness the odd relationship between Stanley, the only boarder, and Meg, the seemingly not-all-there owner of the house (she’s married, but the husband isn’t in the play very much). Two new boarders arrive who apparently know something about Stanley’s past that Stanley is trying to run away from. (I’m not worried about giving anything away because I have no clue what he was involved in). That evening, Meg throws Stanley a birthday party which involves a lot of drinking and odd, unexplained cruelty that ultimately lead to Stanley leaving the boarding house.
If my summary seems odd and random, it is because that is how the play read to me. I didn’t find any of the characters likable or relatable and the play was filled with monologues that I am sure were meant to have a deep meaning to illuminate the point of the play, but were completely lost on me. I also had an issue with the stage directions. I have read a lot of plays and would never use a lack of stage directions as a defect of the writer (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is almost famous for its lack of stage direction) but I do feel that when a writer decides to include them, it should be to help emphasize a theme or characterization. In The Birthday Party, I had a difficult time figuring out what the stage directions were trying to accomplish or how they were helping to further the play.
While I may have enjoyed this play more if I was willing to take the time to study the text closely and analyze the possible meaning of the passages, the play as a whole left a sour taste in my mouth and I’m not sure I want to look that closely at it just yet. (If are any fans of this play read this post, please don’t take offense. I would honestly love to hear what you like about it).
Availability: SMCM Library (as part of The Complete Works of Harold Pinter)
Review Submitted by: Lauren Grey, SMCM Alumn ’11
Rating: Not Recommended