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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Room and
Celebration


American Conservatory Theatre opened their 2001-02 season with two Harold Pinter one act plays, The Room and Celebration. The duel plays were first presented at The Almeida in London on March 16, 2000 and the Lincoln Center Festival featured the two plays in 2001 with the same British cast. ACT presents the first all American cast in this country. The company uses permanent ACT actors and New York actors to portray the characters in both plays. Peter Riegert and Diane Venora came to the Bay Area to play key players in this production.

It was interesting to see the combination of both dramas. Mr Pinter wrote The Room in 1957 when he was 26. Celebration was written in 1999. I could see the elements of future Pinter plays in The Room. The playwright had not yet conquered his style when he wrote the first 60 minute drama.

The Room is set in a dingy post World War II one room flat in London. The opening is slow as Rose, played by Diane Venora, shuffles about in seedy clothes, fixing tea and breakfast for her husband who sits at a table reading a newspaper. The husband, played by Marco Baricelli, utters not a word but there is something dangerous about him. He is a big burly man who glares at his wife as she paddles on incessantly. This room is her security, it is the room where she cooks, eats and sleeps.

Rose continues to talk to her silent husband about how good the room is and how she looks after Burt on this cold winter day. “I look after you don’t I Burt?” she says endlessly. Rose continues to drivel with increase apprehension since Burt must make a delivery in his van on the winter icy roads. She is a drudge of a woman and she continually repeats her themes.

Rose is visited in the 60 minute production by her dotty landlord played superbly by Peter Riegert. It is unclear why he is there since he says “I just thought I would drop by.” After Burt leaves for his work, Rose receives a succession of disturbing visitors: her landlord again, two strangers who would be tenants and finally an enigmatic blind man who has been waiting for her in the basement. All this helps to build toward an ominous and vicious climax. The whole of the act is paradoxical and discomfiting but it is finely acted. After all, this is Pinter and there are more questions than answers at the end of the one act production.

Celebration is as different from The Room as night is to day. This shorter play is more lighthearted and extremely funny. The setting is two tables at an expensive and fashionable restaurant, one table occupied by a bank manager and his wife and the other by two married couples celebrating an anniversary. The two brothers are married to the two sisters and they are the “nouveau riche” of London. They are loud and coarse. During the course of the play, everyone gets drunk, sings libidinous ditties and pounds the table for more bottles of wine.

Celebration is a thin piece but the skill of the actors is a real delight. The actors are faultlessly and selflessly in harmony with each other. This is an exquisite ensemble work that keeps the audience rolling in the aisles.

Peter Riegert gives a consummate performance as one of the brothers, transforming from the mousy landlord in The Room to the self-confident wealthy hoodlum in Celebration. Marco Barricelli also shifts - from the silent husband in the first act to a frolicking and boisterous gangster in the second presentation. It is also amazing to see the change in Diane Venora, from shabby Rose to a rudely confident Prue. Rene Augesen is sleek as the manipulative sexpot wife of Jason Butler Harner’s smarmy, combative banker.

There are some wonderful characterizations by the restaurant staff played by Anthony Fusco, Melissa Smith and Gregory Wallace. Mr. Fusco plays the fey restaurant owner to the hilt. Ms. Smith is outstanding as the hostess as she tells the customers the story of her life and Mr. Wallace is an absolute scream as the waiter. He rises to surreal heights with his interjections about his grandfather’s life and his intimate acquaintances with notable literary figures from Thomas Hardy to Ezra Pound to TS Eliot. He goes from table to table to interject names of celebrities that his grandfather knew. This is a name dropping feat.

Pinter’s dialogue is wonderful. There is regular table talk, pleasant trivial talk and wildly funny conversation. Even the hostess becomes wildly funny when she says “You don’t have to be English to enjoy sex. You don’t have to speak English to enjoy sex. Lots of people enjoy sex without being English. I’ve known one or two Belgian people for example who love sex and they don’t speak a work of English. The same applied to Hungarians.” This is only a sample of Pinter’s comedic writing.

The production closed on Sunday, October 14th. James Joyce’s The Dead opens at ACT on October 25 and runs through November 25. Tickets run $16 - $66. Call 415-749-2ACT for tickets or go to act-sfbay.org.




Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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