The Birthday Party: Dogville meets Twin Peaks
Directed by Bradley Wayne James
Stanley: Alexandria Steele
Meg: Lisa Bastuni
Petey: George Anthony
Goldberg: Ann-Sophie Vanlommel
McCann: Charlotte Larsen
Lulu: Sako Manavdjian
Dogville- There was a deconstructed aspect to the play where each actor began with a narrator accompanied by Peer Gynt Op 23 (tranquil morning music that has become cliched in its usage but no less beautiful). There were no walls, but white tape separating the various rooms in the house.
Twin Peaks- There was much weirdness in the choices for this production. I was already expecting the characters to have some zaniness as this was a Pinter play, but the gender bending roles gave a distinct strangeness to the rest of the story. Weirdness. Zaniness. Strangeness.
Wow. Where to begin... This production of Harold Pinter play ‘The Birthday Party’ by Bradley Wayne James was an oddball to say the least. It had the camp value of a John Water's film mixed in with some horror/thriller elements you'd find in the works of David Lynch.
The plot centers around Stanley Webber’s life at a rundown boarding house owned by an elderly couple and how it is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of two ominous men. They celebrate Stanley's supposed birthday with a party as the night becomes more and more twisted.
The staging was intricate. There was an emphasis on bubble gum pink and flowery patterns for the furniture and decor. I wonder if the set designer is a fan of Bo Welch, who did production design on Edward Scissor hands and The Cat in the Hat. The stage itself was angled forward which created an ‘In Your Face’ effect and helped created a 'second floor' as the characters travel upstage. The lighting choices throughout were exceptional in their creativity. At the beginning, the flashing of red and blue on an empty chair gave the illusion the chair was creeping towards you. The use of strobes, the bright Christmas-like colors along with the music gave a real sense of a Lynchian nightmare.
The old man, Petey (George Anthony) had all the right mannerisms and behavior but his accent which had a sort of southern(?) twang made it hard to determine what was being said. The tattoos on the actor’s hands, could possibly have been covered up as they didn’t make sense with the character. Lulu (Sako Manavijdan) also had tattoos but since they complimented the character, there was no effect on our suspension of disbelief.
Alexandria Steele’s take on Stanley Webber reminded me of Ed Kemper from the series ‘Mind Hunter’. There is a sinister vacant expression shared that gave an unsettled feeling throughout the show. On the one hand this lends itself perfectly to the character, but other times the performance could be somewhat alienating for the audience.
The leading gangster Goldberg was played by Ann-Sophie Vanlommel as a Frenchman with enormous self-importance and bravado. Equipped with a pompadour and a sleek blue suit with stylized chest hair, the look and character were there. Whilst the French accent supported the character's menacing intent, the rapid dialogue made it difficult to decipher what exactly was being said in some of the longer speeches.
Charlotte Larsen’s portrayal of McCann was the best part of the show. Playing the bumbling monotone sidekick to a tee. Her wig unfortunately fell off during a scene, but she dealt with it so gracefully it could just has well have been done on purpose.
I appreciated the inventiveness that this production ‘The Birthday Party’ had when it came down to the bold set design and the choice to gender bend roles. The choice to omit the use of British accents was not that much of an issue for me but I just wish I could have understood more of what the actors were saying. I feel a little less projection and slowing down with the lines would have really helped make the show easier to follow. One thing's for sure, this won't be a production to forget!