"The Birthday Party," the first production of the University of Southern Indiana Theatre season, opens Wednesday, October 5 and runs through Sunday, October 16 at USI Theatre, 3001 Igleheart Avenue in Evansville. Critics consider "The Birthday Party" by Harold Pinter a classic of twentieth century theatre. Elliot Wasserman, director of theatre at USI, directs the dark comedy of malice and mystery.
The setting for "The Birthday Party" is a seedy British rooming house, where the overbearing Meg and her passive husband Petey live a mundane life with their only boarder, Stanley. A pair of thugs called Goldberg and McCann arrives to shake things up. Stanley immediately fears them. Meg seizes the opportunity to throw a birthday party for Stanley, though he insists it is not his birthday. A vague sense of malice grows throughout the evening. Perhaps Goldberg and McCann have come to punish Stanley for some past transgression; perhaps they have come to reclaim him for some sinister organization. Pinter never reveals their exact purpose, but in an interview with theatre critic Mel Gussow in 1993, he said, “I knew perfectly well that 'The Birthday Party' [was] to do with states of affairs which could certainly be termed political, without any questions...and Goldberg and McCann, I knew who they were and what they were up to.”
The premiere of the "The Birthday Party" in 1958 ran for only a few days and was panned in the London newspapers, but it is now heralded as a classic of modern drama. According to one critic, “This study in menace and mystery is a classic of twentieth century drama…it is an early example of post-war tragi-comedy [and] one of the first British plays to reflect the influence of Samuel Beckett and to take Beckett's theatrical world further, developing a new comedic style.”
In recent years, "The Birthday Party" has been revived in major theatre centers such as London and Boston. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, “The play is undoubtedly a modern classic, one that taps in to the heart of 20th-century nightmares.”
Wasserman has always been an admirer of Pinter’s work. He explained, “Pinter’s language is fascinating and witty; his characters are vividly quirky and unforgettable. The Birthday Party blends humor and suspense with dread absurdity and a dizzying range of expression. It is a play both silly and scary, and one that is impossible to forget.”
The cast of "The Birthday Party" includes USI students Greg Schafer as Stanley, Natalie Singer as Meg, Jim Turpen as Petey, Brent Bredhold as McCann, Gordon Gorsuch as Goldberg, and Kensington Blaylock as Lulu.
The design team for "The Birthday Party" includes USI theatre faculty members Doug Hubbell as scenic designer and Shan Jensen as costume designer and USI students Melinda Horton as lighting designer, and Monica Muller as sound designer.
"The Birthday Party" runs October 5 - 8 and October 12 - 16. Performance times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. There is no Sunday performance on October 9.
Single ticket prices are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors 60 and over, and $4 for USI students. Season tickets for all productions in the USI Theatre season are also available. Tickets may be purchased by calling the USI Theatre box office at 812-422-3970 or online at the USI Theatre Web pages
Tickets may also be purchased at the door; the box office will open one hour before each performance.