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The Birthday Party and the Room: Two Playsby Harold Pinter
Written in 1957 while in his mid-20s, The Room and The Birthday Party were Harold Pinter's first two plays. The English dramatist's attempts at creating theatrical works were initially ridiculed, but Pinter is now acclaimed as one of the world's finest playwrights and has won numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005. Pinter is also well known for his poetry, acting, directing, and political activism.
The apparent simplicity of these two plays is betrayed by rich dialogue (for which Pinter is widely regarded) and authentic characterizations. While presumably more effective upon staging, these works, nonetheless, resonate as much for what is being said as for what is left unspoken. Though Pinter's works have become more overtly political over the course of his writing career, both The Birthday Party and The Room have clear sociopolitical overtones. As Pinter himself offered in an interview from the late 1980s about The Birthday Party (and two other plays):
It's the destruction of an individual, the independent voice of an individual. I believe that is precisely what the United States is doing to Nicaragua. It's a horrifying act. If you see child abuse, you recognize it and you're horrified. If you do it yourself, you apparently don't know what you're doing."
These works are an obvious exploration of identity, and the need for the individual to withstand and continually battle against the forces that would rob him of his independence (in thought and deed). Both of these plays are subtly nuanced, and as such it would be easy for a reader to mistake them as lacking in substance, when, upon more careful reading, they are quite evidently teeming with it. Both The Room and The Birthday Party have been, however dubiously, dubbed "comedies of menace." Classify them as one may, they remain, even 50 years later, rich examples of playwriting at its finest.
The Swedish Academy, in recognition of his literary creations, honored Pinter, "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."
Synopses & Reviews
In The Birthday Party, a musician who escapes to a dilapidated boarding house becomes the victim of a ritual murder in which everyone — assassins, victim, and observers — implacably plays out the role assigned him by fate. In The Room, a derelict boarding house again becomes the scene of a visitation of fate when a blind Black man suddenly arrives to deliver a mysterious message.
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