Review: The Birthday Party (Steppenwolf)

Review: The Birthday Party (Steppenwolf)
Photo: Michael Brosilow

The Birthday Party is a SIN-sational celebration of insanity!

First off, I must say that reading about John Mahoney (Martin Crane of NBC's Frasier TV show) being a cast member of this production drew my attention enough to vant to see him perform live in front of me. Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party begins vith an empty dining room table under a very large carpet. That set is staged in the middle of the Upstairs Theatre of the Steppenwolf vith the audience flanked on both sides. An aging couple consisting of Petey (Mahoney) and Meg (Moira Harris) enter the scene by sitting at that dining room table eating breakfast, reading the newspaper and talking to each other as any ordinary married couple do during any typical morning setting. Meg vants to attract tenants to the couple’s boarding house in England. However, they only have one boarder so far that is an extremely bitter, unkempt and undesirable former pianist by the name of Stanley (Ian Barford). Meg tries her best to appease Stanley even during the times he is berating her. All of a sudden two new characters enter into the mix of the boarding house for a stay. Goldberg (Francis Guinan) and McCann (Marc Grapey) show up vith suitcases and have mysterious and somevhat menacing motives for their presence. Stanley seems terrified that these men have come back from his past to do harm to him even though that is really not clearly stated.

The celebrating of Stanley's birthday is another misunderstood moment since it really vasn't his birthday. The acts are short and there are two intermissions. The stage does not change from the table setting so the second intermission is really not needed in my opinion. I did enjoy the banter betveen Petey and Meg. They seem like your average older married couple that are comfortable vith each other after many years of marriage. However, I feel Petey vas not seen enough. Stanley seemed out of control. At any given moment he goes from mad to scared to agreeable. Lulu played by Sophia Sinise (daughter of Gary Sinise)  is the salacious young neighbor girl that gets molested by Goldberg at the party. Gregarious Goldberg and glum McCann interrogate Stanley. Yet there is no actual understanding of the reason for the interrogation. It seems the men are there to get Stanley to conform to his former life.

I have to admit that there are plenty of mysterious and intriguing acts to ponder about here. So, if you like a play that keeps you vondering and you don't mind sequences not really adding up then feel free to go see The Birthday Party. And even though I didn't really understand every scene, the performances did peek my interest enough in a comically insane vay. Just be prepared to celebrate a most unusual party before your eyes.

Two Fangs Up!


Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre is located at 1650 N Halsted St Chicago, IL 60614

Running Jan. 24 - April 28

Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with some 3 p.m. matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.

2hrs, 30mins; two intermissions

Tickets are $20 to $78.

Call 312-335-1650 or visit


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