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CELEBRATION & THE ROOM

Two one-act plays

by Harold Pinter

A.C.T. 2001



"The silences -- those famous pauses -- are eloquent in "The Room," Harold Pinter's first play in the American Conservatory Theater production that opened Wednesday. More eloquent, often, than the dialogue that interrupts them. Which is certainly not the case in "Celebration," the second half of the bill. Pinter's most recent one-act contains scarcely any pauses. The only space between the lines is occupied by voluminous gales of laughter.

Artistic director Carey Perloff's ACT production at the Geary Theater is the first by an American company.

"The Room," written in 1957 when Pinter was 26 -- just before the more fully fledged "The Birthday Party" -- is startling in its clash of mature and apprentice elements. All the familiar Pinter essentials are there: The seedy boardinghouse and ambiguously marginal characters; the vague menace underlying pregnant silences and meaningfully empty babble; the violence implicit in a knock on the door; the grim, always surprising humor.

There are dexterous performances, particularly Diane Venora's bravura silence-and-chatter opening monologue to her grimly mute husband (an imposing Marco Barricelli). The concentration with which she fries his bacon, the caution in her shambling shuffle, the eagerness of her one- sided dialogue and the cringe of her body at his slightest gesture speak volumes about a desperation for security that will be threatened by each new visitor to her precious room.

In "Celebration," Pinter's lower-class characters have gone uptown, though without losing any of their coarse vulgarity, and his tone has shifted to savage social satire. Arcenas' sharply observed set is a trendily appointed restaurant. Deborah Dryden's costumes have switched from shabby poor to vulgar chic.

The occasion is a wedding anniversary being celebrated by two sinister brothers ("We're strategy consultants. . . . It means we don't carry guns") played by Peter Riegert and Barricelli, who are married to sisters (Joan McMurtreyand Venora). Their banter -- loud, mean-spirited and crude -- alternates with the sexually charged venom of the seduction-battle at the next table, periodically interrupted by the hilariously preposterous name-dropping monologues of Gregory Wallace's eagerly ingratiating waiter.

Acutely funny as it is, "Celebration" is a slim piece. The primary delight is in the skill of the actors: The transformation of Riegert from the mousy, distracted landlord of "Room" to the self-assured, wealthy thug in tandem with Barricelli's shift from silent to a jollier, noisier menace. Or of Venora from shabby Rose to loudly confident, bawdy Prue. Rene Augesen plays wondrous variations on marital warfare as the brilliantly backbiting wife to Anthony Fusco's overbearing husband in "Room," then as the teasingly manipulative sexpot wife of Jason Butler Harner's smarmy, pugnacious banker.

Pinter's well-worn satire takes on disturbing overtones when Riegert's Lambert and Barricelli's Matt allude to their shady occupation as "strategy consultants." "We're peaceful strategy consultants," Matt adds. "Worldwide," says the ominously explosive Lambert. "Keeping the peace."

–– ROBERT HURWITT, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

CELEBRATION and THE ROOM, A.C.T. 2001, Playbill Cover

CAST

RENE AUGESEN

ATOSA BABAOFF

MARCO BARRICELLI

ANTHONY FUSCO

TOMMY A. GOMEZ

JASON BUTLER HARNER

STEVEN ANTHONY JONES

JOAN MCMURTREY

PETER RIEGERT

MELISSA SMITH

DIANE VENORA

GREGORY WALLACE


CREATIVE TEAM

LOY ARCENAS, SCENERY

DEBORAH DRYDEN, COSTUMES

PETER MARADUDIN, LIGHTHING

GARTH HEMPHILL, SOUND

MARGO WHITCOMB, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR

PAUL WALSH, DRAMATURG

DEBORAH SUSSEL, DIALECT COACH

GREGORY HOFFMAN, FIGHT DIRECTOR

MERYL LIND SHAW, CASTING

ROBIN GURLAND, CASTING CONSULTANT

RICK ECHOLS, HAIR AND MAKEUP

Cast of CELEBRATION, A.C.T. 2001, Photo by Kevin Berne

THE ROOM, A.C.T., 2001, Steven Anthony Jones, Marco Barricelli