Perloff on Pinter: A.C.T.’s Artistic Director Prepares for The Birthday Party

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

By Taylor Steinbeck

For A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff, directing a Pinter play is a labor of love. Having directed The Birthday Party twice before at Classic Stage Company (CSC) in 1988 and 1989 as well as several of his works here at A.C.T. (Old Times [1998], Celebration [2001], The Room [2001], The Homecoming [2011]), Perloff knows the playwright’s writing intimately. At the first rehearsal of Perloff’s final directing job as A.C.T.’s artistic director, she introduced colleagues, actors, and staff members to her vision for The Birthday Party, and discussed why she is returning to this darkly comedic play.

A.C.T. Dramaurg Michael Paller and director Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal for The Birthday Party.
Perloff’s relationship with Pinter runs deeper than her knowledge of his canon—the two worked closely when she was staging The Birthday Party for its reprisal at CSC, and remained friends and collaborators until his death in 2008. The lessons she learned from him in the rehearsal room have remained with her to this day. “To be with a writer in the room is the greatest gift ever,” she said. “All you have to do is listen to them open their mouths, and suddenly the music of the play makes complete sense.”

Firdous Bamji (Stanley) and Scott Wentworth (Goldberg)
at the first rehearsal for The Birthday Party.
In The Birthday Party, solitary and disheveled Stanley (played by Firdous Bamji) has been living at a seaside British boardinghouse for some time, but his quiet life is disturbed when two strangers, Goldberg (Scott Wentworth) and McCann (Marco Barricelli) arrive at the house. Pinter doesn’t explicitly lay out for his audience what the nature of this terror is. We know that two men have come to do damage to a third, but we don’t know why. This may seem as if the play is a narrative about victimization and oppression, but Perloff maintains that The Birthday Party is about resistance more than anything. “There are little acts of defiance in this play that are just extraordinary,” said Perloff. “If we’re thinking, ‘Why this play now?’ so much of it is that to me: What is the nature of the human spirit that defies fascism? That defies groupthink? That tries to assert itself even in the face of an evil we can’t put a name on.”

As Perloff prepares to bring The Birthday Party to The Geary for the first time, she is ready for the challenges that a Pinter play presents, and excited to have her directing muscles stretched. “Harold always said that doing his plays was like an athletic event,” she said. “You step onto the deck and the clock goes. There’s no wind-up time. It is the most thrilling thing to work on because it just exercises your muscle like no other writer—it’s a beautiful and amazing experience.”

The Birthday Party begins at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater January 10 and runs through February 4. Click here to purchase tickets.
 
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