Craving a little theatre-of-the-absurd? Oh, aren't you always. Until April 30th, head down to Theatre Ste. Catherine (quite rightly billed as Montreal's hottest new venue) and check out Triptych Theatre's production of The Birthday Party.
Written in 1957, The Birthday Party is Harold Pinter's first full-length play. It is firmly rooted in the absurdist tradition of Beckett and Ionesco. Think kitchen-sink-drama meets murder-mystery meets a-day-at-the-psyche-ward. The play centres around Stanley, the lone guest of Meg and Petey's small English boarding house. One day, two mysterious men come to track Stanley down (for mysterious reasons). They stay the night, assist Meg in throwing Stanley a birthday party, and much craziness ensues. And this is the beauty of Pinter: we're never entirely sure what's going on, but we're not trying to be sure either. The dialogue is fabulous, the scenes weird and absorbing. While the play deals with questions of identity - of masks and truths - it is no boring academic diatribe. It's a party!
My press kit tells me that the folks at Triptych Theatre chose to stage The Birthday Party because it was a play they were "dying" to do. This is a great reason, I think, and their enthusiasm comes across. The play has a nice rhythm, shifting seamlessly between domestic banter and criminal hijinks. There is evidence of skilful directing by Sid Zanforlin (of Jesus Hopped the A Train fame) and acting (in particular, Emma Stevens makes an absolutely fabulous "Meg"). While the set is small, it fits both the space and the play.
However, one thing did make me uneasy. While I support Zanforlin's enthusiasm for Pinter's script, I'm not sure that "because I was dying to" is enough of a reason to put on a play. Walking out of the theatre, I couldn't help but wonder why I had just spent an evening in 2005 sitting in a super trendy theatre space, just around the corner from Francophone St. Denis street in Montreal, watching a British tragi-comedy from the late 1950s. This production of The Birthday Party is watch-able and well done - but it isn't more than that. It never reaches far enough outside itself to show you why you've come. At it's best, Absurdism can speak to any audience, anywhere; it can shake you upside down. While I certainly enjoyed my evening at Theatre Ste. Catherine, I walked out into the Montreal night still standing straight up.
The Birthday Party runs at Theatre Ste. Catherine (264 Ste. Catherine E.) until April 30. Call 514-273-8495 for tickets.