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A CurtainUp Review

The Pinter Project
By Jenny Sandman

Pinter's dialogue is as tightly--perhaps more tightly--controlled than verse. --Martin Esslin, The Peopled Wound (1970).

 Pinter Project
Eric Percival, Patty Parker & Todd Reichart; photo
(Photo: Stefan Mreczko)

T. Schreiber Studio's The Pinter Project, a rotating repertory of two of Pinter's most famous plays, The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, could be described as a marathon of pausing. The pauses or absence of information around which Pinter's plays are structured are more liquid in performance than they would seem on paper. This production is therefoe wise in its emphasis on the pauses and the unwritten subtext and, in a break with tradition, to also also emphasize the playwright's inherent humor.

Pinter's stories are full of menace and betrayal, tension and cryptic dialogue which is why his style has often been described as "comedy of menace." An apparently innocent situation turns into a weirdly ominous and absurdist one. Characters are often inexplicable (even to themselves), much like Beckett. The action usually plays out in a small room so that the characters are literally trapped, and the overall sense of oppression intensified.

The Birthday Party, Pinter's first full-length play, is eerily similar to Kafka's The Trial. The main character, Stanley, suffers from an unaccountable guilt. He's interrogated and taken away by two men (anonymous authority figures, reminiscent of mafia capos); we never know why or what Stanley's done, and Stanley himself may not even know. He lives in a small boarding house on the English coast and has apparently been there for some time as the proprietress has a strangely intimate relationship with him. She's a petulant mother figure who treats him like her child, going so far as to give him a toy drum for his birthday. Two men, Goldberg and McCann, unexpectedly show up one day. They crash Stanley's birthday party and wreak havoc.

The Homecoming is the most explicitly Oedipal of Pinter's plays. Teddy brings his wife Ruth home to England to meet his carping, argumentative all male family (his father Max, Uncle Sam, and two brothers, Lenny and Joey)). The men, who all hate each other and Ruth's presence crystallizes that hatred so that they turn on her. By the end of the play they've decided to keep Ruth with them and pimp her out as a whore. Her husband resignedly returns to America, leaving her there to sort out the "business arrangements." Though Ruth seems to be a passive character she actually holds most of the power, despite the rampant misogyny of the male characters ("stinking pox-ridden slut,""filthy whore," "a slut-bitch of a wife").

Both plays are grippingly presented with excellent accents and a cozy set that's completely at odds with the sinister atmosphere. While the acting is notable all the way around, the cast of The Homecoming has an especially laudatory ensemble dynamic. Howard Parke as Max and Jason Weiss as Lenny are brilliantly captivating, the most enjoyable and funny pairing of the project. Patty Parker as Ruth seems weak at first, but she comes into her own in the last act . In The Birthday Party, Sarah-Ann Rodgers is the strongest as a Meg who is so cloying and simple-minded that she's conversely a delight--a character so annoying that you can't help but be amazed at the portrayal. Laurence Cantor as Goldberg and Aaron Letrick as McCann are a formidable duo. Their interrogation scene with Stanley (Stephen Heskett) is very tight.

Director Terry Schreiber keeps the plays moving at a swift clip, and brings out the texts' dry, dark humor. Schreiber received special permission from the playwright himself to present these plays in repertory. . I think Mr. Pinter would be pleased with their highly skilled and enjoyable productions.

Editor's Note: For an overview of Harold Pinter's work and links to other reviews, see our Pinter page.

The Birthday Party and The Homecoming
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Terry Schreiber
Cast, The Birthday Party:Laurence Cantor, Cristina Doikos, Stephen Heskett, Aaron Letnick, Sarah-Ann Rodgers, and Michael Salconi
Cast, The Homecoming: Howard Parke, Patty Parker, Eric Percival, Todd Reichart, Fred Tumas and Jason Weiss Set Design by Hal Tine
Lighting Design by Andrea Boccanfuso
Costume Design by David Kaley
Running time: The Birthday Party, two and a half hours with two ten-minute intermissions; The Homecoming, two hours and ten minutes with one fifteen minute intermission
T. Schreiber Studio, 151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor; 212-352-3101. In rotating repertory.
All tickets $15.
02/02/05 through 03/13/05
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on February 5th performances
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