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Gary Sinise recalls the Steppenwolf’s Pinter past

Gary Sinise

Gary Sinise

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Updated: March 22, 2013 5:28PM

On Sunday, Steppenwolf Theatre will open its production of “The Birthday Party” by Harold Pinter.

Now in our fourth decade, we have had an important association with this playwright. This will be the ninth Pinter play produced by our company. It was John Malkovich, an original company member, who introduced us to Pinter’s work back in the mid-’70s; in 1976, we did productions of “The Lover” and “The Dumbwaiter.” I remember the first time I read “The Caretaker,” the first Pinter play I acted in, which John directed in 1978. Powerful stuff. Over the years we would also produce productions of “The Collection,” “No Man’s Land,” “The Homecoming,” “The Hothouse” and “Betrayal.” There was just something about the mystery and menace of his plays that exited and intrigued us.

And now, “The Birthday Party,” Pinter’s second full-length play and a classic from 1958. It’s described here and on the Steppenwolf website:

“At a sleepy seaside boarding house in England, the humdrum routine of corn flakes, newspapers and naps is interrupted by the appearance of two mysterious 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.”

Directed by Austin Pendleton, it unites company members John Mahoney, Fran Guinan, Ian Barford and Moira Harris (my wife), with guest artists Marc Grapey and Sophia Sinise (my daughter). Original company member Alan Wilder is covering the men’s roles.

It is always a treat when these artists, who have known each other for years and who have worked together many times before, come together again after so long. Moira, Fran and Al have a history of doing plays going all the way back to their college days at Illinois State. John and Austin have been a part of the company since the late ’70s. Ian officially joined the company in 2007 but has done many plays and also studied at ISU, where he began his association with the company in 1988 as an intern. Marc has been a longtime Steppenwolf friend and collaborator and Sophia, who is making her Steppenwolf debut, has obvious historical ties to the company. There is uniqueness to our company because of this long history. I’m looking forward to coming back to Chicago to see this production.

Gary Sinise donated his fee for writing this column to his foundation, Previews for “The Birthday Party” began last week, and tickets are on sale now. For more information go to

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