Joel Sass promises that his production of Harold Pinter's landmark 1958 play won't be what audiences often expect from the Nobel-winning playwright. This won't be about the "portentous pause" that is often a Pinter hallmark. "It's a lot funnier than people expect. It's like David Lynch meets Quentin Tarantino through Beckett," Sass says about the work, which solidified Pinter's place as a major new voice — even though its original production ran for only eight performances. At the core of the play is the titular, sinister event — a celebration that lodger Stanley (Steven Cartmell) does not welcome. The unnamed forces that challenge him not only come from two strangers (Tony Papenfuss and Martin Ruben), but his landlords (husband and wife Richard Ooms and Claudia Wilkens), and next-door-neighbor Lulu (Katie Guentzel). Pinter always explored how totalitarian forces can conspire to destroy the individual, and those themes are at play in The Birthday Party. Sass notes that while the playwright backed away from the term over the years, the phrase "comedy of menace" is an apt description of the piece. "It's a great roller coaster of a ride. It can be so funny, appallingly so, and then turn on a dime and have you on the edge of your seat with images of great cruelty and disturbing, nightmarish interactions."
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: April 6. Continues through May 13, 2012