The new year brings a new show to the DCAC as Idly Bent Theatre Company presents Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. Director Anne Cecelia Haney’s intentions for this production were unclear, and there was no clear framing for this production.
Set Designer Virginia Berg went to great lengths to decorate the stage in a generic home-style interior without any indicators of location or time frame. And with so many set pieces for the simple black box stage it seems cluttered and crowded – getting in the way of the actors as they perform rather than enhancing the performance. Haney nor Berg made any attempt to define that the play takes place at a boarding house on a beach south of London, nor did they give any sense of time with their over-used and under-accentuated décor.
The play suffered from an overall sense of dulled doldrums. The action of the play, which is cleverly crafted and hidden away by Pinter deep in the subtext of the dialogue, never really comes to the surface, causing the production to drag. Haney’s actors felt like they were playing out real time on the stage which became very tedious very quickly and I found myself losing interest in what they were talking about. The text indicated moments of emotional strain and emotional eruptions which were absent in everyone except Stanley Webber (Paul Thomas Truitt).
Most of the actors were static, not at all delving into the rich depths of these slightly tangled characters that Pinter created in this work. The character of Meg – as presented by the lines she speaks – should be nutty and eccentric, a bit off-the-wall and crazy with a touch of senility and routine to her. Rebecca Speas as Meg was simply a woman struggling to achieve abnormal and failing to hit it. While she articulated her lines well, the emotional depth was lacking. She brought no individual life of Meg’s eccentricities to the performance and left the character feeling lacking.
There were similar problems with the strangers, McCann (Stefan Difazio) and Goldberg (Caleb Erikson). While Difazio as McCann lacked any expressive emotion while Erikson was often too emotional; erupting at inappropriate times with loud blasts of shouting making him inarticulate and difficult to understand. At times, Difazio’s stoic approach to the character worked well but there were moments clearly indicated by the text where he should have been displaying some sort of emotional break. Erikson had the exact opposite problem, needing to reel it in on more than one occasion and failing to do so every time.
Paul Thomas Truitt’s approach to the nervous character of Stanley Webber was grounded in a sense of accomplished emotional restraint. He was quiet with a build-up to his explosions that felt natural and his moments of emotional turmoil spewed forth from him like a shaken soda bottle. Truitt effectively navigates the waters of Pinter’s unsettling reality.
I really enjoyed the music performed before act one and act two. These acoustic performances were really amazing and impressive, showcasing the musical talents of Truitt, Speas, and Angela Pirko.
Running Time: 105 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.
Idly Bent Theatre Company Comes to DC and Opens ‘The Birthday Party’ on January 9, 2013 by Scott Dunn.