American Conservatory Theater, San Fransisco, USA, 2001
Programme Cover

Directed by Carey Perloff
Costumes by Deborah Dryden
Lighting by Peter Maradudin
Sound by Garth Hemphill
Scenery by Loy Arcenas

Diane Venora as Prue
Peter Riegert as Lambert
Marco Barricelli as Matt
Joan McMurtrey as Julie
James Butler Harner as Russell
Rene Augesen as Suki
Gregory Wallace as Waiter
Atosa Babaoff as Server
Tommy A. Gomez as Server
Anthony Fusco as Richard
Melissa Smith as Sonia

Marco Barricelli, Diane Venora,
Anthony Fusco & Joan McMurtrey
Photo by Kevin Berne

San Francisco Examiner
Friday 21st September 2001
'Celebration' & 'The Room'


American Conservatory Theater's 35th season opened strongly Wednesday with the American premiere of Harold Pinter's new play, 'Celebration'. Set alongside his first play, 'The Room'. It's a fascinating view of how little human fears vary, with little regard to their social class, economic circumstances or the particular slice of history they land in. Holding onto our haven in a threatening world - whether it's a dreary flat or a luxe restaurant - are the themes of each of these one acts, apt during this precarious time. At first blush 'The Room', written in 1957 when Pinter was just 26, and 'Celebration', penned four decades later, couldn't be more different. 'The Room' opens in a shabby post-World War II one-room flat in London: 'Celebration' opens in a chic London restaurant. Yet both are about the same thing; the desperation to land safely and connect meaningfully in a threatening world. As 'The Room' opens, Rose (Diane Venora) putters about, fixing tea for her ominously quiet husband, who is preparing to head out into a winter storm. Venora is marvellously furtive, her eyes darting about as she scuttles from kitchen to table. Worn and harried, Venora's very body is alert to threat. Rose keeps up a mindless chatter to soothe herself into a pretence of contentment. 'This is a good room, isn't it Bert. I look after you don't I Bert? You got a chance in a room like this.' Venora prattles with increasing anxiety as Bert (Marco Baricelli) hulks over his paper, refusing to talk or look at her. Occasionally, dark fears bubble to the surface as Rose evidences a morbid curiosity about what lurks in the basement of the house. Designer Loy Arcenas gives us a grimy, stained kitchen with faded rose walls rising to bomb-blast roughness. Rose's room is breached when her landlord apartment hunters and a cryptic blind visitor invade her personal space, insinuating it is time to move on. Director Carey Perloff shades an increasingly bleak emotional landscape in the dingy flat. It is clear there is no sustenance within or without for Rose. When a rapping on the door interrupts tea, Verona cringes at the dotty landlord (Peter Riegert) who enters and conducts a proprietary survey, testing out one chair and then another, as if trying the room on. Rose presses against the door in relief when he leaves. Rose pleads with Bert not to leave as she bundles him in a scarf and sweater; he stomps out wordlessly. Next, Rose discovers apartment hunters, the Sands, on her doorstep. A mysterious man in the basement has sent them up to look at her room, inferring displacement. Verona cowers as the couple (René Augesen and Anthony Fusco) spar spiritedly with one another over the suitability of the house and the gloomy room - even though it's not vacant. No sooner have they left than the landlord turns up at the door, pleading with Rose to talk with a strange man in the basement who came to see her. Verona shows us that every nerve is strained to snapping as her eyes grow wide with fear, her voice grows shrill. She spins out of control, lashing out at the blind man (Steven Anthony Jones) who enters. "What do you

Cast of Celebration
Photo by Kevin Berne

know about this room? I got these creeps coming in here stinking up my room". Declaring himself merely a messenger, he gently beckons "Your father wants you to come home", and Rose melts. When Bert busts back in through the door and the winds of the storm sweep through the room, Perloff delivers a swift climax that leaves us reeling. Before the performance began, Perloff promised the audience a cathartic evening "of more questions than answers". She was right. As 'The Room' unfolds the rough terrain of a psychological landscape, it speaks to some about the basement fears of being known and exposed, and to others about shabby interior rooms in which people confine themselves, shutting out the howling unknown. By contrast 'Celebration' opens in the opulent cocoon of a trendy restaurant, with three successful couple thrusting and parrying for dominance. Pinter perfectly captures the boozy verbal jousting of the nouveau riche - and the wannabe. And there, past sins collided with the present. A.C.T.'s resident acting company - newly composed of Barricelli, Augesen, Steven Anthony Jones and Gregory Wallace - and the rest of the ensemble achieve an effortless hilarity in 'Celebration' that only cohesion could breed. Augesen is the buxom Suki, a blond joke waiting to happen in her red mini and stilettos. She's flaying banker husband Russell (Jason Butler Harner) for an office affair with a secretary. Harner, a young man on the way up, preened a bit too cockily over his latest secretarial conquest and is paying for it dearly. Augesen confides that she knows a bit about banging around behind the file cabinets, recapping her bawdy exploits in detail. The balance of power shifts, and the young husband paws his wife as if to reclaim his territory. At the next table, two sisters (Venora and Joan McMurtrey) celebrate an anniversary with their industry titan husbands, brothers Matt (Barricelli) and Lambert (Riegert). The pair of middle-aged consultants bellow bawdy ditties, drain bottles and pound the table for more while their lacquered wives paw the wait staff, recount uproarious courtship tales and climb all over the banquettes in high spirits and hilarity. The power balance shifts again when Riegert recognizes Suki, a past office conquest. "The past is never the past", Suki opines. With each rent in the fabric, a servile maitre'd or waiter bustles in to smooth things over. And, for a time, the outside world is held at bay while the restaurant sanctuary caters to every mood and whim. "I have a sense of equilibrium in a restaurant", says Harner in an epiphany moment. Even the restaurant staff agrees. "I prefer to stay in me womb", says a waiter. "This place is like my womb". While the ensemble generally plays tightly and credibly, a few false notes sound. The name-dropping waiter (Wallace) who brings conversation to a halt by recounting his grandfather's many august acquaintances doesn't quite mine the rich humour of the circumstance, nor does Melissa Smith as Sonia the maitre'd. But Pinter's dialogue is so good and this seamless ensemble so worthy, 'Celebration' is a triumph on all counts. Pamela Fisher


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