On Stage

BERMEL, ALBERT

ON STAGE By Albert Bermel The Father As Fate And so Goldberg the Jew, whose first name is Nat or Simie or Benny, and McCann the Irishman, whose first name may or may not be Dermot (or Seamus),...

...Max, who complains Lear-like about the ingratitude of his offspring, represents an internal force and can therefore inflict deeper wounds on his son...
...he smells...
...Your skin's crabby, you need a shave, your eyes are full of muck, your mouth is like a bog-house, the palms of your hands are full of sweat, your nose is clogged up, your feet stink, what are you but a corpse waiting to be washed...
...he requests "one for the road...
...the doors, French windows and bay window clearly open on to nowhere...
...The Birthday Party is peculiarly up-to-date in two respects: It bristles with comedy, and the principal comedian happens to be the "villain," Goldberg...
...Stanley is also paranoid...
...Later Lulu accuses him not only of entering her room during the night but of bringing his brief case...
...Teddy is no more ingratiating...
...Just before Goldberg and McCann lead him out he wants to speak but, like the Orator in Ionesco's The Chairs, can give out only croaking, untongued noises...
...And the game of blind man's bluff that caps the second act can serve as an object lesson in excitement to those directors who rupture their imaginations trying to "involve" the audience...
...Whereupon he asks her, "Who opened the brief case, me or you...
...One of Goldberg's speeches is worth quoting at length for the shot-in-the-soul it gives the old descriptive soliloquy: "Some people don't like the idea of getting up in the morning...
...As it is, they appear constrained...
...he insults Meg, his loving landlady??at one point he begins to strangle her ??and is called a "mother defiler...
...Every actor has a chance to play several personalities who inhabit the same body...
...The puff of carbon dioxide refreshes him...
...In the first play Goldberg is a judge-cum-kidnapper who preaches respect for fathers and conceivably is Stanley's father, or perhaps only a spiritual one like Leopold Bloom...
...It remains one of the big plays for our time...
...The interrogation of Stanley by Goldberg and McCann, with Stanley facing away from the audience, goes at machinegun speed...
...They torment him anyway and finally take him captive...
...For example, Goldberg, the most colorful person (i.e., people) in the play, is liable to switch from a snarling boss to a paternal adviser to an expansive life of the party: The Birthday Party could almost be subtitled "The Goldberg variations...
...Whenever I hear that point of view I feel cheerful...
...in the second play he becomes Max, the actual and retributive father...
...The Birthday Party tells of the impact, mainly on Stanley, of two outsiders...
...Ruth White as Meg and Alexandra Berlin as Lulu cope well enough by sounding as if they come from the Lower Edmonton of New England...
...When he feels tired he asks McCann to blow into his mouth...
...The reason is that once again American actors are not comfortable using a hahf-and-haff dialect, any more than British actors are when they fill in for an American role in the West End...
...possibly he recognizes it, but refuses to name it or to acknowledge its sovereignty over him...
...Goldberg asks Stanley, "Do you recognize an external force, responsible for you, suffering for you...
...the action is constricted within a seething family circle, its members tied by blood and marriage...
...In The Homecoming there are no outsiders...
...Both Stanley and Teddy are apparently repellent figures...
...That is...
...But Henderson Forsythe (Petey), who guzzles corn flakes, wears a cloth cap, and scans The Daily Mirror as convincingly as any beach attendant in Brighton, stops living in the room as soon as he utters a word...
...One of Pinter's virtues is that he does not write hard-and-fast characters...
...The titles of both plays refer ironically to a celebration though each play is about a theft??from the hero (The Homecoming) or of the hero (The Birthday Party)??and each play is also about a father or surrogate father who stands in for fate, nemesis...
...he seems to be free to do and respond as he wants...
...Stanley feebly resists his tormentors...
...James Patterson as Stanley falters from one corner of England to another...
...The New York Times Magazine's title for a recent article, " 'Pinterism' Is Maximum Tension Through Minimum Information," is rubbish...
...The author has said enough times for us to take him at his word that the plays mean what they are...
...The Birthday Party may be more diffusely plotted than The Homecoming, but it was an impressive trial run...
...I emphasize that this is what the plays are about because every Tom, Dick and Aristotle gets into a lather over what Pinter's plays mean...
...Like Poe and Mallarme, Pinter has found a way to give un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu, to hint at tribal rites and suppressed images, even to unite them...
...A steely, laconic man, he exists at an unbridgeable distance??his education plus his cold temperamentó from his father and brothers, and shows his wife no overt affection...
...A commercial fluke brings The Birthday Party to Broadway a year after The Homecoming, although it was written seven years before...
...They came up to me and said they were grateful...
...Petey, Meg's effete husband, turns into Sam, the effete chauffeur-uncle...
...ON STAGE By Albert Bermel The Father As Fate And so Goldberg the Jew, whose first name is Nat or Simie or Benny, and McCann the Irishman, whose first name may or may not be Dermot (or Seamus), walk into a home that is or is not a boarding house to take possession of a certain Stanley to whom they are old acquaintances or perhaps strangers, on a morning that is either Stanley's birthday or a month earlier...
...Schneider's deployment of the actors as a group is otherwise faithful, active, fluent...
...He cannot respond openly to Lulu's advances, but he does grab for her in the dark and spread her out on a table...
...He once gave a recital in Lower Edmonton, an unprepossessing neighborhood in London...
...the rattling alternation of funny and threatening lines adds to the sense of danger in the scene, as does the dialogue at the end that sends Stanley offstage looking nearly as brainwashed as Governor Romney...
...Absolutely unique...
...Stanley is dirty, unshaven...
...Pinter provides, if anything, a surfeit of information (what I meant earlier by "red herrings"), only it happens to be full of contradictions...
...Possibly Stanley does not recognize the external force operating on him...
...one may as well attend to what is in them...
...I had a unique touch...
...And audible??the comedy is neither forced nor scamped...
...William Ritman has supplied him with a straightforward, inconspicuous set painted in mucky greens and browns...
...Teddy, on the other hand, belongs to his family and seems to have deliberately sought the torments of being humiliated and losing his wife: He is drawn back to his past (his home) by his past...
...It is an especial pleasure to see Schneider guiding a good play again after all that clinking, low-grade Albee, Williams and Anderson...
...As McCann, Edward Winter takes refuge in a barking, unrealized Irishness that somehow yields the best acting dividends of the evening...
...A fine jumble of data...
...Yet Petey, the "decent" character in The Birthday Party, wants Stanley to stay and tries ineffectually to prevent the kidnapping, much as his "decent" counterpart in The Homecoming, Uncle Sam, is fond of Teddy...
...If Forsythe, Patterson and Flanders, all of them shrewd actors, had been allowed to adapt Pinter's inflections to their own, they could have forgotten about setting up a consistent vocal front and concentrated their faculties on playing the multiformity of each part...
...Pinter made craftsmanlike use of those seven years...
...The production of The Homecoming by Peter Hall and the Royal Shakespeare Company probably established a model for staging Pinter, combining as it did the vocal ease of Paul Rogers, Ian Holm and Vivien Merchant with an imposed stiffness of gait and stance and ritualistic gestures...
...Yet by not fixing one's eyes on the glittering red herrings that Harold Pinter drapes all over The Birthday Party (Booth Theater), one sees behind them the lineaments of The Homecoming...
...McCann, the burly sidekick, divides into two younger brothers who have stayed at home, Joey the boxer and Lenny the sadist...
...When Lulu says he must have been good to his wife he replies, "You should have seen her funeral...
...Ed Flanders has evidently been coached in London's East End Jewish patois...
...It was all arranged, it was all worked out...
...These contradictions are in themselves a kind of information, helping to elucidate the states of mind of the characters who receive the information...
...Champagne we had that night, the lot . . . Then after that, you know what they did...
...What Pinter has done in tightening his story and enriching his portraits is to make the relationships closer and so more explosive...
...He follows the sing-song intonations of Goldberg obediently but??and this is the crux of the matter??has to rigidify the role to do so...
...Unmistakably (if such a word applies to a Pinter play) Stanley and Teddy are the respective heroes, not merely because they are less unsympathetic than the masks Pinter makes them assume, but also because they are the ones acted upon, the oppressed, while the other characters are agents or onlookers...
...In refusing repeatedly and publicly to entangle himself in large statements of general significance, Pinter has done the modern theater a fat service...
...Like Beckett, he thereby encourages us to explore the work, to come to slippery grips with it as drama, rather than seek to explain it away as a godson of metaphysics...
...Alan Schneider's treatment of The Birthday Party appears at times to stalk alongside the text, matching it step for step instead of coinciding with it...
...They carved me up...
...In some sequences he creates the haunting disequilibrium of a nether world ??each man's private anti-Utopia, in which fears, not wishes, come true...
...and he accepts his punishment passively...
...They tell us that, despite the naturalness of the language (for the most part) and the drab realism of the settings, the events in the plays are not on the usual surface of real life...
...And Stanley, a piano player down on his luck, acquires status and an improved wardrobe seven years later as Teddy the philosophy professor...
...Meg, the mistress of the house, and Lulu, a passing tart, coalesce into Ruth, the treacherous mother-wife...

Vol. 50 • October 1967 • No. 21


 
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