OFFBEAT: Steppenwolf's 'Birthday Party' a strange gift with promising debut by Sophia Sinise

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-02-05T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Steppenwolf's 'Birthday Party' a strange gift with promising debut by Sophia SiniseBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Steppenwolf Theatre Company's new production of Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party" is filled with a who's who cast of talented favorites.

Under the direction of ensemble member Austin Pendleton, it includes ensemble members Ian Barford, Francis Guinan, Moira Harris and John Mahoney along with Sophia Sinise and Marc Grapey.

"The Birthday Party," in Steppenwolf's 299-seat Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St., plays until April 28 and is two and half hours long with two 10-minute intermissions.

Part of the playwright's calling card, it leaves the audience with plenty to ponder, wrapped neatly in confusion and colorful characters. Some might not like the bounce about of themes, and strange behavior that unfolds in the telling of what can be pegged as an unclear story for the audience to sort out.

Petey, played by Mahoney, and Meg, played sensitive and soft-witted by the wonderful Harris, run a seaside boarding house, where their long-time tenant Stanley lives.

Stanley is portrayed as a perfectly tortured soul by the fantastic Barford.

Their rut of a routine of cornflakes, newspapers and naps comes to a sudden end when two strangers, played by Grapey and Guinan, arrive on the day of Stanley's birthday party, which is also attended by the delicate Lulu, played nicely by Sinise.

This play has been around since a 1958 premiere and continues to be an audience enigma.

This selection was included in Steppenwolf's 2012-13 season as part of the ongoing theme of "reckoning": "Explore the moment when we are called to account. Will our deeds be repaid? Will our secrets be revealed? Will we get what we deserve?"

The production team for "The Birthday Party" includes: Walt Spangler for scenic design, Rachel Healy with costume design, Keith Parham for lighting design and Josh Schmidt's sound design and original music.

Originally, actor and Steppenwolf ensemble member Kevin Anderson was included in the casting as announced in November.

He was to play the role Grapey now portrays, but had to drop out after he was contracted for another project.

As for Pinter, who died on Christmas Eve 2008, he wrote 29 plays, including "The Caretaker," "The Homecoming" and "Betrayal."

If the last name Sinise sounds oh-so-familar, it should. Sophia Sinise is the oldest daughter of the three children of actor Gary Sinise, who is originally from Blue Island, Ill. and also a Steppenwolf ensemble member.

This production marks Sophia's debut on the Steppenwolf stage. She studied theater at California Lutheran University, where she received two Irene Ryan Awards for The Amerian College Theater Festival.

Tickets for "The Birthday Party" are $20 to $78 at (312) 335-1650 or

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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