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Birthday Party, The

play pinter

a play by Harold Pinter, performed in 1958 and published in 1959. Pinter's first full-length play, a critical and box office failure when first produced, it involves the mental destruction of a young pianist living obscurely in a seaside town. It is never clear what Stanley Webber has done to attract the malignant attentions of Goldberg and McCann; but these two sinister intruders come to stay in the boarding house where he rooms, throw a bewildering number of improbable accusations at him, and then break his spirit at a birthday party they organize for him. The next day they take him, transformed into a zombie in a business suit, to some unspecified destination. The play, though more surreal and less naturalistic than the plays Pinter was to write in the 1960s, is still characteristic in its combination of ordinary, idiomatic language and an atmosphere of mystery and menace. It has been subjected to various interpretations, for instance as a metaphorical portrayal of the trauma of growing up and joining the adult world, but it is probably best regarded as an evocation of insecurity and dread, the more unsettling for being unspecific.

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