"This house is on the list," Meg Bowles repeats with pride in the first act of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party , onstage at Undermain Theatre through June 2.
Not one to poop on Dallas theater parties, I trudged through this 3-act, two intermission play with a glass of wine and a good friend in tow.
The Birthday Party is a psuedo-absurdist, overtly political drama about the Meg and Petey Bowles's boarding house, where a Mr. Stanley (a strong performance by Gregory Lush) has been staying for more than a year. Unbeknownst to the Bowles, Stanley's exile to their rural home nears its end when the sinister Goldberg and his impish partner McCann show up for his birthday. In true Pinter fashion, it's hard to tell if you're on the edge of your seat from suspense or fear of falling asleep. But as this was my first invitation to one of Pinter's more widely produced plays, I argue the former and blame the latter on the red wine.
In reality, The Birthday Party is as fun as any shindig this side of Prohibition. And without further ado, here are my tried-and-true rules for this (and any!) party.
1) Don't walk in alone.
Drag a friend. Everyone knows the best way to feel comfortable at a party is to bring a friend. The Undermain's convenient location in Deep Ellum, allowed my compatriot and I to stop in at the All Good Cafe down the road, for a quick bite and some gossip before entering the underbelly of Main Street. We found more friends to sit with once we tromped down to the basement space.
2) Admire the house.
If you're not sure what to say to the host, simply compliment the crown moldings, or the glitzy, flowered wallpaper. In this case, we have designer John Arnone to thank for the swanky decorations and versatile setting.
3) Laugh at Everything
The women sitting with me giggled at every single line, facial expression and movement made by the duo of Bruce DuBose and Marcus D. Stimac, who played Goldberg and McCann - a mastermind and a defrocked priest. When McCann accuses Goldberg of betraying the organization, Goldberg shouts that McCann "Betrayed the breed" - sending my row into a fit of uncontrollable snickers. Any Undermain patron can confirm, DuBose can do no wrong.
4) Make frequent trips to the kitchen
If you're near the food and the booze, you're going to see everyone at the party and you can continuously refill your glass with whichever sampling of Yellowtail, Sobieski or Michelob Ultra stocking the liquor cabinet. With two intermissions, The Birthday Party, gives ample time to purchase multiple glasses of $4 merlot, though for the record I only had one.
5) Accept everything.
You don't wanna be the person at the party casting judgmental glances on a ridiculous theme or guests who grow more irritating as the night continues. So, with The Birthday Party you should accept the stilted accents and Patrick Kelly's sing-song direction. As I began to ignore my responsibilities as a critic, I stopped questioning this play's place in the Undermain season and began to enjoy Katherine Bourne's lively performance as the neighbor Lulu and T.A. Taylor's wise, yet placid Petey. I began to revel in Pinter's clever use of bizarre characters and thematic undertones to create this theatre gem.
6) Leave Early.
I didn't follow this rule, despite the temptation a second intermission offers. Just like any party around the witching hour, The Birthday Party takes an interesting turn in act three you don't want to miss.
Put this celebration on your list. Undermain Theatre is located at 3200 Main Street and tickets range from $15 -25.