Julian Sands; photo by Carol Rosegg

Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble member Austin Pendleton directs The Birthday Party by Harold Pinterin the Upstairs Theatre, at the helm of a Pinter play for the first time. The theater has been newly reconfigured by Pendleton with scenic designer Walt Spangler to bring the audience closer to the story by moving the stage to the center of the room. The Birthday Party begins previews January 24 (Opening night is February 3, 2013;  and runs through April 28 in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St). Tickets ($20 – $78) are on sale now.
In conjunction with The Birthday Party, Steppenwolf is proud to announce a one-night only performance of A Celebration of Harold Pinter, performed by British actor Julian Sands, directed by ensemble member John Malkovich. With personal anecdotes and reflections drawn from his work with Pinter, Sandscombines Pinter’s poems and prose to create a fresh and intimate insight into the Nobel laureate’s literary legacy. A Celebration of Harold Pinter is February 10 at 7:30pm in the Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St). Tickets ($25) are on sale now.

Actor Julian Sands, best known for the films A Room With a View and The Killing Fields, was a longtime friend of the playwright. A few years before his death, Pinter requested that Sands fill in for him at a poetry reading when he was too ill to go on. The experience ultimately inspired this production, which debuted in 2011 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in homage to Pinter, who died in 2008. The production toured through Britain and was presented in San Francisco, Los Angeles and to sold-out audiences in New York City, with Backstage calling it “mandatory viewing for devotees of the actor and certainly ‘the defining dramatist of the 20th century’…this one-man show fondly reveals an engaging and at times vulnerable side of the famously prickly playwright.”

“I think the extraordinary accomplishment in Pinter’s work is his mastery of language, which is so precise and so, at the same time, ambiguous and unlikely. We are constantly being asked to interpret the truth and to be aware of how language both defines and obscures the real,” comments Artistic Director Martha Lavey. “I look forward to the discussions that The Birthday Party will provoke. It is very funny, very human and theatrically gratifying.”

The Birthday Party takes place at a sleepy seaside boarding house in England, where the humdrum routine of corn flakes, newspapers and naps is interrupted by the appearance of two menacing strangers. They become guests at longtime tenant Stanley’s surprise birthday party which, after a few glasses of whiskey, party games and a mysterious blackout, turns into a deliciously impalpable nightmare. As excuses and alliances hastily shift, so does thetruthin Harold Pinter’s riveting dark-comic masterpiece.

The cast of The Birthday Party features ensemble members Ian Barford as Stanley, Francis Guinan as Goldberg, Moira Harris as Megand John Mahoney as Petey, with Marc Grapey as McCann and Sophia Sinise as Lulu. The production team includes: Walt Spangler (scenic design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design) and Josh Schmidt (sound design and original music). Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Matt Hawkins (fight choreographer), Cecilie O’Reilly (dialect coach), Deb Styer (stage manager), Kathleen Petroziello (assistant stage manager) and James D. Palmer (assistant director). Photos and bio information for all artists are available upon request.

Tickets to The Birthday Party ($20 – $78) and A Celebration of Harold Pinter ($25) are currently on sale through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. 20 for $20: twenty $20 tickets are available for The Birthday Party through Audience Services beginning at 11am on the day of each

performance (1pm for Sunday performances). Rush Tickets: rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online using promo code “BIRTHDAY15” or “SANDS15”. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket. For additional student discounts, visit steppenwolf.org/students. Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season. For additional information, visit steppenwolf.org/groups.

Free post-show discussionsare offered after every performance in the Subscription Season. Steppenwolf is located near all forms of public transportation and is wheelchair accessible. Street and lot parking are available. Assistive listening devices and large-print programs are available for every performance.

Accessible Performances:

terpreted performance: March 31 at 7:30pm

Audio-described performance and touch tour: April 14 at 1:30pm (3pm performance)

Open captioned performance: April 27 at 3pm

The Birthday Party is supported by ComEd, the Official 2012/13 Season Lighting Sponsor.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is America’s longest standing, most distinguished ensemble theater, producing nearly 700 performances and events annually in its three Chicago theater spaces—the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat Garage Theatre. Formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, Steppenwolf has grown into an ensemble of 43 actors, writers and directors. Artistic programming at Steppenwolf includes a five-play Subscription Season, a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season and three repertory series: First Look Repertory of New Work, Garage Rep and Next Up. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Off-Broadway, Broadway, London, Sydney and Dublin. Steppenwolf has the distinction of being the only theater to receive the National Medal of Arts, in addition to numerous other prestigious honors including an Illinois Arts Legend Award and nine Tony Awards. Martha Lavey is the Artistic Director and David Hawkanson is the Executive Director. Nora Daley is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit steppenwolf.org, facebook.com/steppenwolftheatre and twitter.com/steppenwolfthtr.

Currently on stage is The Motherf**ker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro (through March 3, 2013) in the Downstairs Theatre. The 2012/13 Subscription Season also includes Head of Passes byensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by ensemble member Tina Landau (April 4 – June 9, 2013) in the Downstairs Theatre; and Belleville byAmy Herzog, directed by Anne Kauffman (June 27 – August 25, 2013) in the Downstairs Theatre.