The Birthday Party” (1971)
In my second year at the University of Kentucky I was cast in the student production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party.
It was a great experience for me. I was working with friends I admired and this was my first and only (thus far) exploration of a Pinter script.
There were precious moments in the process.
One actor who was required to play a vital scene while more than a little tipsy, had never to my knowledge drunk alcohol in his life. The director was coming from a philosophical place that required “bridging the gap” between reality and theatre to the point where the “bridge” was no longer required. He aspired to leave storytelling behind in favor of “story-living”.
I find this approach more often to be better therapy than good theatre…but that’s for another time.
It was decided that it would be useful and wise to finish one evening’s rehearsal at the actor-in-question’s apartment, where, as a cast, we would get our actor blotto in a safe environment while the rest of us raided his fridge and rummaged through his LP collection (show music – OLD show music – good grief!). It was a reasonable strategy…except… The character in the show was a quiet, steady, murderous drunk…an ominous cloud on any horizon. Our actor was…not so much. As the cherry vodka took hold, he began to sing…loudly…every Fred Astaire ditty in the entire Fred Astaire ditty-book. Ominous cloud? More like the munchkins in THE WIZARD OF OZ celebrating the demise of the Wicked Witch. The disappointment in the room, both from the failure of the experiment and the dearth of danceable tunes in the records, was palpable. Our cast dissipated into the night when our befuddled cast-mate began wailing Harry Lauder songs in a blurry brogue.
I played the lucky (?) victim of the birthday party in the title of the show. He appears in the third act after having been ravaged overnight in a torture/interrogation session. He’s a wreck…a shell of a living thing. He sits, non-responding, slack-jawed, drooling, throughout the scene. Again, the director begged for realism.
A skill sadly neglected in most acting classes.
Not much call for drooling in musicals…or comedies…or…life, for that matter.
But if you need a drooler…I’m yer guy.
It was the closest I ever got to being in a reality show.
I didn’t care for it. I’m an actor/storyteller and a civil human being — one is pretend and one is real. I rarely confuse the two and when I do, it’s not good.
Do you suppose there are times and places when reality shows are appropriate and harmless entertainment, and times and places when they’re not?
One is pretend.
One is real.
Have we confused the two as a nation?
It’s not good.
These days I find myself watching the news and thinking about that far too much.