The play The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter is known for it’s absurdist themes and menacing secrets. The title, to me at first, made me a bit uninterested. It started off normal until two characters enter the show which changes everything, including the birthday boy’s demeanor and you see the truth unravel. The funny thing about this story, is we don’t know if it’s actually his birthday or not. Stanley Webber, a young pianist who seems to be hiding from something. He is staying in a run down boarder house ran by an older couple in a place where he feels he won’t be found. The woman running the establishment, Meg Boles, asks why he doesn’t play piano anymore but he always seems to find excuses. Meg also tries to make a surprise birthday party but Stanley insists it is not his birthday, but the real question is, is he lying, considering he is such a suspicious character who could be lying about anything.
The characters in this play all have images of themselves that they either want to hide or that they make up, making them very absurd. This play has been categorized as a Theatre of the Absurd play because of it’s diverse identity and feelings being displayed. For example, the character Meg is said to be in her sixties, but she acts much younger than that, almost like a tramp, attracted to Stanley and his musical skills. He plays with his hair and gives him sexy-like attitudes. Her husband Petey doesn’t speak much in the play and tends to seem uninterested in the things she wants to talk about. Perhaps this is why she acts sexually towards Stanley. He is a young and talented man who has lived with them for almost a year while her husband it too stuck in the newspaper to even talk about the weather with his wife. I see Meg as a lonely women, desperately wanting to reach for Stanley in the hopes of making her husband jealous. However, this is not how I feel the entirety of the show is based off of; there are three other characters, McCann, Goldberg, and Lulu.
McCann and Goldberg come into the show claiming to be together on a short holiday. I’ve read on several websites in the past when it came to analyzing this play, and many claim that since McCann and Goldberg come in for a short holiday, this completely destroys the fact that they are staying in a boarding house, however when you look up what exactly a boarding house is on the internet, the definition is “a house providing food and a bed for paying guests” which clearly destroys those theories since they are paying for an overnight stay. Lulu is the next door neighbor who continuously flirts with Stanley. They’re in a small town with not many young people and Stanley just happens to be staying next door so of course a young woman like Lulu would try to get with him. However, Stanley shows no interest considering he’s only staying there to hide away from someone or something. Yet, once Stanley hears about the two men coming to the house, he immediately changes his attitude and demeanor and tells Lulu to run away with him. This sudden change in his personality shows he is trying to get away from the two men. He clearly is staying there to hide from them.
In act two, all hell breaks loose as everyone gets drunk during the birthday party. Stanley goes so crazy as to almost rape Lulu and almost murder Meg. In act three of the play, McCann and Goldberg become completely suspicious, they talk in ways almost angry with each other when it comes to discussing Stanley. They claim that Stanley had a mental breakdown the night before. They have long pauses and try to find the right words to say to Petey or Lulu. Once they finish talking to Stanley offstage, he comes onstage looking completely messed up with broken glasses and slurred words. McCann and Goldberg start telling him things like “you will be a success” and “we will provide for you”. When discussing this, many people I know just wonder why he was taken away, wondering if he murdered someone or did something stupid to piss someone off, but digging deeper into text, I found that when they say things like “you will be a success” tells me something different. He was a beautiful piano player and Meg loved to listen. Meg used to watch him play on the piers, but then he stopped. My assumption here is that he stopped playing because he was drawing attention. Meg says that big crowds used to stop and listen to him play, and I think that perhaps this scared Stanley into stopping.
Everyone I know, when it comes to this play, automatically assumes the worst; that he killed someone and is hiding away from being caught. I, however, want to make the conclusion that he is an artist. He doesn’t want fame and just wants to play because he loves to do it. I am a pianist and I know it always annoyed me when I was on a streak on playing and once I stopped for a song, my family in other rooms would clap or start talking about how I could do better and I honestly hated it and stopped play because of how much it bugged me. My focus would vanish once I was disturbed. I feel like the playwright wrote Stanley in the same manner. Perhaps he played and loved to do it but he hated having an audience or didn’t want a record deal. I’ve made my own conclusion that perhaps Stanley was offered a music deal, but continued to deny it, but the producer (or producers, i.e. McCann and Goldberg, perhaps) didn’t want his talent to slip from their fingers. I feel that Stanley was running away from fame. But many people would contradict me with this theory considering during the first read, immediately, reader think Stanley is psychotic from his behavior in act two and since he almost killed Meg, he must have killed someone else, but I still stand strong to my thoughts because I believe that when someone is being pressured or chased into a situation they don’t want to be in, they could snap, especially once they felt they were safe.
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