Ayotte '08 directs 'The Birthday Party,' Pinter's first full-length play

Bates College presents The Birthday Party, the first full-length play by the renowned Harold Pinter, in performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, in Gannett Theater, Pettigrew Hall, 305 College St.

The production is directed by Amanda Ayotte, a Bates senior from North Chelmsford, Mass. Ayotte, who is double-majoring in theater and art history, is directing the piece as her thesis project in theater.

Admission is $6 for the general public and $3 for seniors, Bates faculty and staff, and non-Bates students. For more information call 207-786-6161 or visit the box office Web site.

First produced in London’s West End in 1958, The Birthday Party transcended an initially poor reception to become one of the most-produced works by Pinter. “It’s definitely a thinking person’s show,” says Ayotte.

The play is set in a run-down boarding house. The landlord and landlady have a single lodger, Stanley, who appears to be a washed-up pianist. They are visited by Lulu, a woman with her eye on Stanley, and by two toughs who have some kind of hold over him. Their psychological reconquest of the hapless tenant drives the action of the play.

Heightening the air of intensity is the elliptical quality of Pinter’s writing, which often puts banality in the service of deception, misdirection and confusion. “It’s just written so well. It’s strange, because the dialogue between the different characters is very simple — a lot of it doesn’t outright say anything,” says Ayotte. “Everything is subtext.”

“In Pinter,” she explains, “everything is and everything isn’t at the same time.” So, she says, the character Stanley is a sort of Everyman figure, but then again he isn’t. And he may have been a concert pianist, but maybe not.

“The characters are extremely deep,” she says. “I find it so interesting that you can never know everything there is to know about them.”

The play as a whole, in fact, doesn’t pander to viewers or manipulate them, but instead, she says, “allows you to have your own ideas. In most plays, there’s a definitive end, there’s a definitive answer as to what happened. There isn’t that here . . . but what’s unique is the way that you get to think about it.”

Ayotte, whose interest in stage began in her teens, began directing theater in high school. Her directing projects at Bates have included Still Life with Iris and I Dream Before I Take the Stand.

“Amanda has proved to be a resourceful and imaginative director in tackling a work of poetic fantasy like ‘Still Life with Iris,’ ” says Martin Andrucki, Ayotte’s thesis adviser and the Dana Professor of Theater at Bates.

“In The Birthday Party, she’s taking on a play with a drably realistic surface under which are lurking some extremely strange psychological demons. She’s very alert to that dimension of Pinter’s work, and she has the determination to capture it on stage.”

Ayotte says that she finds the technical and the aesthetic sides of theater equally attractive. “I love how lighting and sound can just come together and make the show look awesome,” she says. “And then I love making an audience think and making something really beautiful happen on stage.”

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