The Birthday Party: A Theatrical Catastrophe Review – Sad But True

Nick Ullett in THE BIRTHDAY PARTY - A THEATRICAL CATASTROPHE - Photo by John Perrin fFlynn
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When the Geffen Playhouse announced in 2014 that they were presenting Pinter’s first great play, “The Birthday Party,” the news rocked the theater world of Los Angeles. Oscar-winning director William Friedkin was slated to direct a star-studded cast led by Tim Roth, a cast which included the menacing Steven Berkoff and British playwright/performer/comic Nick Ullett. Tens of thousands of bucks were spent getting just the right staging and feeding gourmet lunches to the principals. Within days, the first month was already a sell-out and everyone awaited eagerly for the premiere of the highly hyped show. And then, in the blink of any eye, the ill-fated play was cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances” with nary an explanation. Rumors abounded, but no one was sure what had transpired – until now. Finally, in 2024, cast member Nick Ullett spills the beans in his solo tell-all at the Rogue Machine.

Nick Ullett – Photo by John Perrin Flynn

A gifted British raconteur, Ullett holds the audience in the palm of his hand at the Rogue Machine’s intimate upstairs Henry Murray theater. Born in London and sporting years of experience in theater – and he writes besides – Ullett again shows that dry Brit humor can resonate with American audiences. “Unforeseen circumstances” turn into laugh-out-loud events as the cast and crew of Geffen’s “Birthday Party” bumble onward and upward in this comedy of errors, missteps, and downright idiocy.

Nick Ullett – Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Let’s start off with the renowned director, a man who wowed film audiences with movies like “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.” Let’s just say that his outstanding creative skills did not transfer well to the stage – a situation which led to confusion while the cast played musical chairs, some of which were often empty, during rehearsals. This was especially true when the actor cast as Goldberg, a main character who dominated most of the play, kept changing faces while producers frantically tried to find someone somewhere to fill the role. The empty chair technique definitely did not work well for the rest of the cast. And, all the while, the director kept demanding more money to meet his creative aspirations. Then there was the cast, a cast marked by people quitting with little notice while others found that frustration and a certain hopelessness were the flavor of the day. Even with gourmet lunches and the finest of liquors to imbibe, things were rapidly going downhill. Ullett does a superb job of slowly, inexorably, and uproariously defining moments leading to the play’s disappearance from the Geffen’s roster.

Nick Ullett – Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Director Lisa James helms the production seamlessly while the hilarious and droll Nick Ullett dishes the dirt. To Ullett’s credit, he takes the time to name names, offer bios and witty personal observations, and place people into the tale with an eye towards an audience that may not be in show biz themselves. This is an inside story about theater which everyone can understand, enjoy, and laugh about. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY: A THEATRICAL CATASTROPHE is a must-see production which will entertain, amuse, and fascinate.

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY: A THEATRICAL CATASTROPHE runs through April 8, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Mondays and at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (no performances on Monday 3/4 and 3/29). Rogue Machine performs at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Tickets are $35 (seniors $20, Show4Less 3/8 ($10+, 3/15 ($15+), and 3/22 and 3/30 ($20+). For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online.


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