Vol. 5 Num 1046 Sat. May 12, 2007  

'The Birthday Party': An academic production

As part of their 'Western Acting Method' curriculum, MA students of Department of Theatre and Music of DU staged four shows of Nobel laureate litterateur Harold Pinter's play The Birthday Party. The shows continued from May 7 to 10 at the Natmandol.

Professor Abdus Selim has translated the play into Bangla. Under the guidance of Dr. Israfil Shaheen, Abul Bashar Muhammad Ziaul Haque Bhuyan is the trainer of the academic production.

As in other plays by Pinter, reality is presented as 'enigma' in the three-act drama The Birthday Party. Presentation of 'uncertainty', 'abruptness' and 'meaningless havoc' of real life have been presented in the play. Like other Pinter's plays, The Birthday Party can be interpreted in different ways. A major theme is that of the struggle for power, which in Pinter's view underlies most or all human interrelationships, a struggle which Pinter has often set in more or less unsavoury but ordinary domestic environments.

The Birthday Party is set in a seedy boarding house run by Meg and Petey, a couple in their sixties. The only boarder, Stanley, is a depressed-looking man in his late thirties who has apparently been a professional pianist.

The drama takes a new turn when three outsiders-- Lulu, a young woman whose efforts to get Stanley to go out with her becomes unsuccessful; Goldberg, a powerful and threatening Jewish man in his fifties; and McCann, an Irishman in his thirties, taciturn and menacing-- arrive in the boarding house.

Goldberg and McCann have a distinct air of the bogus about them, as if they were parodying their respective 'Jewishness' and 'Irishness'. It becomes clear that they have come in pursuit of Stanley, to wreak vengeance upon him for a past misdemeanour, or to reclaim him for a shadowy organisation that they represent.

Following the arrival of Goldberg and McCann, Meg decides to put on a party for Stanley, saying that it is his birthday, a claim which Stanley denies. Meg gives Stanley a toy drum as a birthday present, which Stanley beats with increasing savagery as the curtain comes down on Act I. Act II sees first a scene of interrogation, as Goldberg and McCann ply Stanley with quickfire questions, eventually reducing him to inarticulation.

This scene then segues into the eponymous party, at the beginning of which Goldberg, McCann and Stanley all resume the politely vacuous speech patterns of Pinter\'s quotidian. The party atmosphere becomes increasingly hostile, however, and Stanley is victimised in the course of a game of blind man's buff, before losing control, and making as if first to strangle Meg, then to rape Lulu.

Act III is set the morning after the party. Goldberg and McCann, it becomes apparent, have been working on Stanley through the night, and he is now dressed in a suit, clean-shaven, rendered conventional in appearance and wholly inarticulate. Goldberg and McCann have achieved complete dominance over Stanley, and are taking him off in their car to be dealt with by one Monty, evidently a professional, perhaps a torturer or a psychiatrist, or both. Petey mounts a faint protest at the impending removal of Stanley, but backs down in the face of a threat to himself. Meg outwardly remains unaware that anything untoward has taken place as the play ends.

A scene from the play. Photo Courtesy: Mustafiz Mamun