The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Birthday Party is set in an unnamed English seaside town where Meg Boles, in her sixties, runs a failing boardinghouse and her husband, Petey, is a deck-chair attendant. Their only boarder is Stanley Webber, an unemployed pianist in his late thirties, whom the apparently childless Meg treats as if he were her little boy. She feeds Petey and Stanley what she considers to be a “nice” breakfast: cornflakes and fried bread. When Meg tells Stanley that two men are going to be staying there, he becomes alarmed and refuses to believe that they will come. He talks about leaving, saying he has been offered a job on a world tour, and tells Meg about the one concert he gave years earlier. Lulu, a young neighbor, arrives with a package. She asks Stanley why he never washes or leaves the house. She tries to get him to go outside and eat her sandwiches. When the two men, middle-aged Nat Goldberg and thirtyish Dermot McCann, appear, Stanley slips out the back door.

The visitors are there for some unspecified purpose, and McCann is nervous over whether they are in the right house. After Meg says it is Stanley’s birthday, Goldberg insists they have a party. Stanley returns after the strangers have gone upstairs, to learn from Meg that he is to celebrate his birthday. She gives him his present, the package delivered by Lulu. Stanley unwraps the child’s drum Meg has given him (because he does not have a piano), kisses her, and begins playing it, at first regularly, then erratically, finally uncontrollably.

As act 2 opens, Stanley meets McCann and says he is not in the mood for a party. McCann is busy tearing paper into strips, and when Stanley picks up a piece, the visitor is angered. Stanley suggests that they have met before, probably in Maidenhead, but McCann insists that he has never been there. Stanley claims that he plans to return to his home and explains why he is living in this town: “I started a little private business, in a small way, and it compelled me to come down here— kept me longer than I expected.” Although McCann expresses no suspicions or threats, Stanley starts defending himself, asserting he is not “the sort of bloke to— to cause any trouble.” McCann denies knowing what Stanley is talking about. Stanley adds that it is not his...

(The entire section is 934 words.)