Lulu.............................Nicole Sugana Fuller
Goldberg.....................peter cosmas sofronas
Scenic Design by James J. Fallon
Costume Design by Hope Leigh Becker
Lighting Design by James J. Fallon
Sound Design by Thomas Luddy
Pinter's "The Birthday Party" is right at home in Salem State's Callan Studio.
Every seat in the small theatre puts you where Pinter would want
to keep you: so close to the stage that by Act II, your proximity to the
players will make you edgy.
The play opens like a family sitcom, with the man and woman of the house,
Petey and Meg (Joe Salvatore and Sheri Apprille), unwittingly tormenting one
another as long-married folks often do. Like a British Archie Bunker, Petey
suffers his wife's relentless good cheer, insistent attentions, and
superfluous questions. "Is that your paper?" she asks as he's trying to
read. "Is it nice?"
Apprille is wonderful as the solicitous housewife whose apron is more
generously contoured than her cortex. And Salvatore's Petey is perfect down
to the last, unfashionable working-class detail, including an errant belt
protruding boldly from under his Cardigan like the hilt of a surrogate sword.
The play's three acts are set in a single space: the dining room and
adjacent parlor of Meg and Petey's seaside boarding house in England.
Designed by James Fallon, the set features papered walls that are jagged at
top where they would normally meet the ceiling, suggesting that the place
has been ripped out of context, away from the supporting structure. Fallon
reinforces the impression with the parquet flooring: Its edges look as
though they were cut with a giant jigsaw.
The tension in each act builds toward an anticipated event. In Act I, it's
the arrival of two new boarders. Act II culminates in the birthday party.
Act III leads to...well, the ending.
In Act I Petey is matter-of-fact about the prospect of welcoming new
boarders, but Meg is alarmed. The boarding house hasn't seen a new guest in
about a year, since the coming of Stanley (Danny Swain), now a long-term
resident. Like many of Pinter's characters, Stanley is a creature of habit,
and Meg lives to chronicle his comings and goings. Each morning she
delivers tea to his bedside, and awaits his coming down to breakfast as the
event of the day. Finally he emerges from the stairway in bathrobe and bare
feet, looking so rumpled you can practically smell the sleep on his unwashed
Swain, as Stanley, is riveting. He is as adept at capturing his character's
terror as he is at depicting his insolence. Fearful of meeting up with the
new guests, Stanley goes to pieces before our eyes. His dread is visibly
In the flesh, the new boarders turn out to be a natty couple, their suits
and brief cases distinguishing them from their working-class hosts. Peter
cosmas sofronas gives Goldberg--the pair's leader--a Carey Grant accent, and
swallows his words so that they're sometimes unintelligible. But perhaps
it's deliberate. As the boss man, Goldberg can communicate how and when he
likes. If you don't get the message, you suffer the consequences.
Michael Schmidt as the second boarder, McCann, is both
fastidious and menacing. One senses McCann could kill someone if he didn't
have to get his hands dirty. He has a compulsive habit of tearing columns of
newsprint from the newspaper, placing them side by side on the table. With
the utmost care and orderliness, he makes a mockery of meaning.
Stanley's dread, as you might suspect, turns out to be well-grounded.
The new boarders seem to regard him as a problem that needs resolving.
Or perhaps as a defective model that's being recalled. And by the time the
party (including Nicole Sugana Fuller as flirtatious young Lulu) has
gathered for Stanley's birthday celebration--over Stanley's protests that it
isn't his birthday--his days at the boarding house are numbered in the
single digits. But you probably weren't expecting cake and ice cream.
"Was it nice?," several theatre-goers asked one another in their best
cockney accents as they were leaving the show. No, not nice, really. But
good. Quite good.