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The Birthday Party & The Room Paperback – January 20, 1994
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When Petey announces that they may be having two additional boarders, it's taken matter-of-factly, as if we had known all along that Meg and Petey's home was a largely uninhabited rooming house. In general, letting out rooms is evidence of a need for additional income and hardly a basis for a claim of higher status and social prestige. However, Meg is up to the challenge of redefining their circumstances by repeatedly insisting that their house "is on the list." The nature of the list is unspecified, but Meg's repeatedly made claim seems most sensibly taken as a list of the best, most respectable boarding houses in the area.Read more ›
Of course none of us is in control of his or her destiny, but in this play Rose doesn't know if the room is still hers, who her landlord is, and who are the strange people who enter the room and seem to be attempting to control her life. Is Mr. Kidd the landlord? If he is, he doesn't know how many floors the house has. Rose asks him questions; he evades answering them or doesn't comprehend.
The stranger Riley calls her Sal, and says she is wanted at home. She's puzzled; we're puzzled, and that's part of what Pinter is saying--we live in an existential world in which we operate and wait for we know not what.
Pinter took his cue from Samuel Beckett and brought his audience into new territory where the norms of behavior were altered, into a world of questions without answers. But Pinter the artist was able to create an alternative world in which his plots intrigue us, his dialogue has its own beauty and majesty, and his characters fascinate us.
Pinter changed the audience's expectations, shook them out of their usual theater-going habits and made them think. He made them anxious, antsy with his skittish people in his edgy plays. Rose says, "Who did bring me into the world?" Why, Pinter did, of course.
Rose Hudd talks endlessly in the beginning, and her husband Bert says nothing. It's cold and damp, and he has to take the van out.Read more ›
The two plays represent a kind of starting point for Harold Pinter, being his first published plays. These established the template for his "comedies of menace," and in fact come across on the page as variations on a theme. In the three-act "The Birthday Party" (1958), we meet a man living in a boarding house confronted by two shadowy characters who seem to know him. In the one-act "The Room" (1957), it is a woman in an apartment who is similarly confronted, by several figures who seem to want her room.
If you are one familiar with Pinter and value his plays for having a kind of elliptical, categorization-defying quality, these would seem solid choices to read. But if you are like me, an outsider to Pinter's world, you will find these hard going. Characters come and go randomly, saying odd things. Acts have a tendency to meander for a while before reaching a kind of intense pitch and sudden end. There's humor, but of a distinctly uncomfortable kind that suggests if you aren't laughing, it's maybe because the laugh's on you.
Characters were a key problem for me. If one is to care about anything that is happening in "The Birthday Party," you need to care a bit about the figure at its center, the hapless layabout Stanley. But he resolutely refuses to connect with anyone. The play's message of hopelessness begins with him, before we even meet the two shady characters who have serious, unexplained business with him. Are they mobsters from Stanley's prior life? Or are they supposed to represent a kind of malevolent Establishment, as some Pinter critics claim?
Give Pinter credit for not being direct in his answers.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I really enjoy Harold Pinter's works. They're often hard to discern meaning from, but the dialogue is always solid and I find myself thinking about what I've read or seen long... Read morePublished on December 1, 2011 by J. Smallridge
The Birthday Party is a very good play about a young man and his inevitable and perhaps unavoidable fate. The plot is quite simple, yet it is also elegant in its simplicity. Read morePublished on March 13, 2001 by Gunnar Bell Gundersen
Harold Pinter's _The Birthday Party_:
A young man lives with his mother at a run-down boarding house near the beach. Two visitors come and shake things up. Read more