Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Jim Bost
With Alexa Bauer, James Stevens, Jordan Garrick, Meg Hachmann, Jody Hegarty, Rodrigo Herranz, Jacob O'Brien Mulliken, Kieran Sequoia and Emma Simmons
8 pm Friday-Sunday, June 15-17
750 N. St. Francis Drive
Inscrutable misanthropy permeates Harold Pinter's short play, Celebration. There's no joy whatsoever in asshole-ville, as a ragged and alcohol-soaked wedding anniversary dinner at an expensive restaurant unravels into bizarre asides, meandering flights of obnoxious and pointless behavior, visits from the eccentric restaurant staff and increasingly trashy antics.
The cast of this production, staged by Theater '47, a new theater company in Santa Fe, gamely tries to keep up with Pinter's harrowing view of loveless, sarcastic, thug-like nouveau riche couples, in contrast with a waitstaff prone to launching into extended autobiographical monologues or unlikely literary allusions.
Director Jim Bost obviously has great affection for Pinter in general and Celebration in particular. Two notes in the program exude intoxicated, hagiographic praise for Pinter's work. Bost, formerly head of the theater department at the University of Maine, may have made a relatively common error in attempting Celebration here-namely the assumption that genuine love for a playwright and one of his or her glittering scripts will increase the odds of a successful production. Reality dictates that the play has to be cast and brought to tangible life through the arduous process of rehearsal. Great with ambition, but sadly short on resources, directorial clarity and professionally trained performers with the range and nuance required by certain plays, many a beloved script becomes hash in the City Different.
Celebration has its moments. If you tend to dine out frequently, you are, perhaps, well familiarized with condescending, obnoxious, obstreperous, yet wealthy patrons. The humor is easier to enjoy when not also a patron, but an audience member.
The staging and setting for Celebration is particularly inspired. The performance takes place in the cabaret room at The Lodge, with audience members sitting at tables as if they too are at the restaurant that is the setting for the play.
(A surreal moment occurred while perusing the following events sign
in The Lodge's lobby: "Qashqai Grad-uation Party," "Garcia Graduation Party," "Harold Pinter's Celebration.")
To the credit of the cast, much of Pinter's verbal humor makes it across the crowded restaurant to the audience. Clever turns of phrase jump out in surprising and unexpected ways. The "most expensive fucking restaurant in town with the very highest fucking standards" offers complimentary pickles; the waitress "interjects" frequently with long lists of the many literary figures with whom her grandfather supposedly was intimate friends. The carping, bickering and leering between the couples who are patrons of this fine establishment attains jaw-dropping levels of loathsomeness. Bad behavior can be great fun to watch.
Distractingly, accents are all over the map. It's difficult to tell what the cultural context is for the appearance of these thoroughly unlikable characters. One imagines that the ugliest of the characters, Lambert, played with ferocious and unrelenting physicality and broadly comic extremism by Jordan Garrick, is intended to be the sum total of every aspect of the Ugly American. But Pinter's script says a lot about class and fine distinctions in society. Much of what is subtle about these class distinctions seems largely lost. The overall impression is of a variety of characters from different plays. Despite the short running time of about 45 minutes, Celebration is a rough party.