The Birthday Party
Profile Theatre
Through May 26

Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party explores the world of an English bed and breakfast occupied by the owners, Petey and Meg, and their loan customer, Stanley Weber. Stanley is an aimless drifter who has been mooching off of the couple for God knows how long, using Meg's creepy sexual fascination with him as a tool to take advantage of her in subtle and despicable ways. She feeds him soggy corn flakes for free and takes his verbal abuse; he lets her have an occasional kiss, amongst other things.

The routine they have established is disrupted by the arrival of a pair of mysterious gangster types named Goldberg and McCann, who come looking for Stanley, presumably to take him away, or kill him. They also mess with his mind by interrogating him, physically hurting him, and finally orchestrating a birthday party for him which, by way of its sheer, deranged irrelevance, causes great psychological turmoil in both Stanley and the audience.

A good production of Party exploits the suspenseful, and yet darkly humorous dynamic between Stanley and the men for all it is worth. This is a detail that The Profile Theatre Company seems to have forgotten. As played by Leif Norby, Stanley is an abrasive, even explosive individual, who hardly seems concerned with the men who have come specifically to torment him. It's all right to play Stanley as obnoxious, but to rob him of an inherent fear and helplessness (as Norby does) is to make his relationship with the two men free of all suspense, and his ultimate descent into madness at their hands completely unbelievable.

Norby's performance could almost be excused if Doug Baldwin occupied his role as Goldberg with even a hint of menace. Alas, he does not, ruining a golden opportunity to play one of the most compelling villains in dramatic history with a shockingly lifeless performance. Goldberg is a terrifying figure because he is simultaneously evil and loveable, but as played by Baldwin he is hardly even evil, and certainly not loveable. Baldwin imbues him with a small, whiny presence that makes his status as a subtly powerful and dangerous leader seem almost laughable.

Tracy Hinkson's direction of all this is tight without being focused. His production looks professional, moves fluidly, but has failed to point the intentionally ambiguous material in any specific direction and as a result, falls flat. Execution seems to have taken precedence over planning.