30 April 2012

The Birthday Party

The play was Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. Though I have not seen very many productions of Pinter’s work I have read a considerable number of his full length plays, and so I did know a bit for what I was in store. There was an absurdist quality to The Birthday Party that called to mind the plays of Samuel Beckett and especially Waiting for Godot. People speak in a Pinter play but unlike in Beckett’s Godot, nobody really seems to be listening. And what is spoken often has little to do with anything, really. Conversation in The Birthday Party is all small talk, non-sequiturs, meaningless banter and empty repartee, whereas in Beckett the small talk barely disguises profundity. Vladimir and Estragon speak and hold the illusion that they speak meaningfully. Estragon says to Vladimir, “That’s the idea, let’s ask each other questions.” Anything to give them the impression that they exist! The reality of their condition keeps imposing itself upon them and thus, Vladimir and Estragon speak to each other to pass the time: in actuality they are trying to hold off the horror of their existence. When Estragon attempts to tell Vladimir his dreams, Vladimir cuts him off: “DON’T TELL ME!” he screams, and Estragon, gesturing toward the universe replies, “This one is enough for you?” The talk is absurd because it is an attempt to avoid the void that their silence reveals.
But in The Birthday Party the conversation is absurd in the sense that though the talk is addressed to someone, it is not meant to accomplish very much outside of merely reporting events. The conversation reveals nothing and usually means nothing.  The conversation is silent. And what is suppressed under all of the talk is a violence and fear. What speaks is silence. Pinter says “There are two silences. One when no word is spoken. The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed. This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it. That is its continual reference. The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don’t hear. It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place.” This speech is intended to maintain silence.
The Birthday Party is not about what was said but about what remains unspoken. Butthis matter sometimes comes issuing up with volcanic force. In the play idle banter transforms seamlessly into vituperative assault and violent confrontation, and simple games quickly transform into barely concealed assault. At the play’s end, Goldberg and McCann lead Stanley out of the boarding house in which he has resided, but now he can no longer even speak. The meaninglessness of conversation has perhaps thus far protected him; now forced out into the world, he cannot think to address it: shaved, showered and dressed, Stanley can no longer speak.


Post a Comment

<< Home