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  The Birthday Party at Steppenwolf Theatre

The Birthday Party

Steppenwolf Theatre
1650 N. Halsted Chicago

Petey, Meg and their long-time tenant Stanley live comfortably, if without particular flair, in a seaside boarding house in England. But their humdrum daily routine of cornflakes, newspapers and naps comes to a sudden end when two mysterious men appear, bringing with them menace, mystery and one overwhelming question: What exactly are they searching for? When the group gathers together to celebrate Stanley’s birthday, alliances are re-drawn, scandals are revealed and all are left teetering on a precipice. Dismissed by critics for its opacity when it first opened (and promptly closed) in London in 1958, Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s mordant and macabre play has since gained a reputation as one of the dark comic classics of the twentieth century.

Thru - May 19, 2013

Price: $20-$78

Stage: Upstairs Theatre

Show Type: Comedy/Drama

Box Office: 312-335-1650

Running Time: 2hrs, 30mins; two intermission

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  The Birthday Party Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune - Somewhat Recommended

"...In his new production of "The Birthday Party" for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Austin Pendleton decides to keep the table where Meg (Moira Harris, in her first Steppenwolf appearance in 15 years) and Petey (John Mahoney) sit to eat breakfast and chatter about their boarder, Stanley (Ian Barford) - a fellow who has secluded himself to try escape a variety of neuroses and omnipresent childhood guilt. But when Goldberg (Francis Guinan) and McCann (Marc Grapey), mysterious operatives with the kind of hidden motives common to so much of Pinter's subsequent work, show up to mess with Stanley, and to be messed with by Stanley's strange insides, you don't see Stanley pressed up against the walls, laying out his guts. There are no walls. You look through Goldberg and McCann at your fellow audience members. The action takes place on a long platform in the center of the room (designed by Walt Spangler, with costumes by Rachel Anne Healy and lights by Keith Parham). There are few sharp cues. You hear people coming around from behind the audience risers long before they arrive."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times - Highly Recommended

"..."The Birthday Party" is set in an English seaside boarding house owned by an aging couple - caretaker Meg Bowles (Harris, back at Steppenwolf for the first time since 1998, and in bravura form) and Petey (Mahoney), whose morning ritual of corn flakes, newspaper reading and non-communication with his wife sets the play's tragicomic, Beckettlike tone. (Petey's job as a deck chair attendant on the pier keeps him offstage for all but a few crucial scenes, which Mahoney nails with gorgeous minimalism.)"
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Hedy Weiss

Windy City Times - Somewhat Recommended

"...So, are Goldberg and McCann repo agents for the Grim Reaper? Is the "van" they drive, in fact, a hearse? Has Stan lost his will to live, and is "birthday" to be understood as a euphemism for death? Is Goldberg's frantic denial of his own geriatric symptoms an attempt to ensure his continuance among the living? Is Pinter mocking English government-sponsored healthcare? When our universe resembles a studio-workshop exercise exhibiting no discernible urgency, why should we care?"
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Mary Shen Barnidge

Centerstage - Highly Recommended

"...Harold Pinter was a rare playwright. His plays have largely been regarded as enigmas, fascinating dramas that take a bit of unraveling. Steppenwolf's current production of his masterpiece "The Birthday Party" has all the complexity and tension this play requires. If you enjoy well-acted, tension-filled evenings at the theater, this production is a must-see."

Joseph Bowen

ShowBizChicago - Highly Recommended

"...The Birthday Party is certainly not a work for everyone. There were quite a few audience members surrounding me who made their opinions known, but in their dialogue, clearly did not understand or appreciate the playwright's voracity of plot and subtext; nor did they understand the classically trained Meisner method that is there for all to absorb. In fact the Pinter/Meisner symmetry really melded at the same time. Though Meisner's technique was developed decades before, it wasn't really until the likes of Mr. Pinter that the actor was able to fully invest oneself in a modern setting. Mr. Pendleton and his ensemble flourish in this realm of quirkiness."

Michael J. Roberts

Stage and Cinema - Highly Recommended

"...Austin Pendleton's direction is precise and prophetic, leading a great cast through an occasionally funny and ultimately chilling document of dread. While the original 1958 staging of The Birthday Party was not well received, closing in two weeks, this production succeeds because of the continuing relevance of unexpected threat. Now, more than ever, few nations appear too free from the threat of the uninvited visitors, the midnight knock on the door."
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Erika Mikkalo

ChicagoCritic - Highly Recommended

"...Pendleton's experiences directing Chekhov serve him well here. Birthday Party isn't a Tarantino movie, after all, and its violence should be menacing but never explicit. Put too much emphasis on the force brutality, and it degenerates into sadism. Thankfully, Pendleton knows how to shift focus to the non-action of the play: its deflections, its ellipses, its repressions, its ambiguities. He challenges his audience to see beneath the veneer of overt action and to ask instead "What isn't happening? What isn't being said? What isn't being properly addressed?" The birthday party itself, for example, is a subtle piece of choreography, its outward reveries of toasts and party games striking just the right discordant tone to Stanley's silent and near total internal collapse."
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Anthony J. Mangini

Chicago Now - Highly Recommended

"...I really loved this BIRTHDAY PARTY. The story, the direction, the acting were superb. I was riveted the entire time. I imagine some may claim it moves too slow. I would argue the pacing is perfectly intentional. I would also support the elimination of an intermission. Without the need for a scenery change, two intermissions seems over-indulgent for this party."
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Katy Walsh

Around The Town Chicago - Recommended

"...Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party", now onstage in the Upstairs theater at Steppenwolf, is a man of genius when it comes to his characters and the locale that he sets them in. In this creative telling of a story about people who are facing their "day of reckoning", skillfully directed by Austin Pendleton, we have a series of characters who may not be who or what they seem to be. This is what keeps our interest for three short act ( total run time 2 hours and 25 minutes-two intermissions)."
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Alan Bresloff

Chicagoland Theater Reviews - Recommended

"...John Mahoney is terrific as Petey, a nondescript man who has the grit to stand up to Goldberg and McCann as they prepare to take Stanley away. Mahoney's Petey may be ordinary but he's not intimidated by his two threatening visitors. Ian Barford is likewise outstanding as Stanley, passing through so many emotional changes from domineering and overbearing to panicky, and finally to resignation. Sophia Sinise (the daughter of Gary Sinise) does well as Lulu, the saucy young neighbor girl who is nearly raped by Goldberg during the frenzy of Stanley's birthday party."

Dan Zeff

  The Birthday Party Photo Gallery

   This show has been Jeff Recommended*

*The designation of "Jeff Recommended" is given to a production when at least ONE ELEMENT of the show was deemed outstanding by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee.

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