Farm Boys and The Birthday Party

Saturday night, Dave and Terry and I saw Farm Boys at the New Conservatory Theater, and then Sunday night Dave and I saw The Birthday Party at the Aurora.

Farm Boys is an affecting play despite what I think are some weaknesses in the writing. A gay man inherits a midwestern farm from an older man with whom he had a love affair many years ago — the older man’s first. The younger man moved out of the Midwest, though, years ago and is uneasy about the idea of moving back and taking over the place. And he’s clearly troubled by his memories of his relationship with the older man — some of which we see acted out as flashbacks.

I especially liked Brian Levy as the ghost/flashback of the older man and Scarlett Hepworth as his ex-wife — very warm and loving portrayals of their characters. I thought the writing of the play was not everything it could be, though — I felt that a fair amount of the dialogue was just a bit too formal to sound completely natural, and in the second act I really wanted to see more of the relationship between the two men — what happened after they became lovers and before they separated. I think I’d have come away with a more vivid sense of what the relationship meant to them in their memories if I’d had seen more of what it was at the time, and I came away wishing that more time in the second act could have spent with the flashbacks, which seem to me to be the emotional core of the story.

For all that, it’s a very moving play, and I might try to go see it one more time before it closes weekend after next.

The Birthday Party is not a play I’m wild about, and the Aurora’s production didn’t make me a convert. I think I understand and appreciate what Pinter is doing technically in his plays, I just never seem to be able to care much that he’s doing it. I can see that there are some interesting ideas in the play, but they seem few and thin to me, nowhere near substantial enough to sustain my attention for three acts. But the whole cast is terrific and it was a good evening. Dave and I mostly went because we’re fans of James Carpenter and Julian Lopez-Morillas, who — lucky us — are in the two most important roles and doing a compelling job of it. But whole ensemble is excellent. Phoebe Moyer is wonderful and funny as the landlady whose name I’m forgetting, the one who keeps asking if the corn flakes are nice.

I’ve enjoyed James Carpenter’s work for some 15 years or more now, but he’s always seemed to me to be the sort of actor who is really good as long as he stays within a fairly limited range of what he can do very well — now between this and last season’s The Master Builder, I’m not so sure about that any more. Both that performance and this one had a breadth and depth of feeling to them that I don’t remember seeing before. I won’t mind, though, if he gets more upcoming opportunities to display it in Ibsen than Pinter.

Dave says that The Birthday Party has exactly the same structure as a typical episode of The Goon Show. I don’t know enough about The Goon Show to repeat his explanation, but I pass it along here in case it’s an enlightening insight for anyone. And it does occur to me that I’d probably like The Birthday Party much better if it had been a short one-act.

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