Pinter’s The Birthday Party

One recurring motif in Harold Pinter;s work is the image of the single room. Pinter himself spoke of this form as being one of the most pure for the theater. For Pinter, one room, a few characters, and a door, and the fear of what will come through the door next is all that is necessary for a good play:
;Two people in a room- I am dealing a great deal of the time with this image of two people in a room. The curtain goes up on the stage, and I see it as a very potent question: What is going to happen to these two people in the room? Is someone going to open the door and come in?; (Esslin 235)
Pinter;sfirst full-length play, The Birthday Party, perfectly embodies this single room purity. The play takes place in a single room, whose occupants are threatened by forces or people whose precise intentions neither the characters nor the audience can define.
The Birthday Party, was produced in 1958 at the Arts Theater in Cambridge. The play centers around Stanley, an apathetic man in his thirties who has found refuge in a dingy seaside boarding house which has apparently had no other visitors for years. Meg, one of the owners, cares for Stanley in a very motherly fashion that at times appears to border on incest. Petey, her husband, is a kind old man who rarely speaks and is employed as a deck chair attendant.
Little is revealed about Stanley;s past besides the fact that he was once a piano player and may or may not have once had a concert. This ambiguity becomes the driving force of the entire play. In the middle of thefirst act, the comic duo of Goldberg and McCann arrives, and it soon becomes clear that they are after Stanley. Like Samuel Beckett, Pinter refuses to provide rational explanations for the actions of his characters. Are the two emissaries of some secret organization Stanley has betrayed? Are they male nurses sent from an asylum from which Stanley has escaped? This question is never answer…

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