The Birthday Party: A Theatrical Catastrophe, Landslide: The Music of Fleetwood Mac, & LA Women’s Theatre Festival

Nick Ullett shares real backstage secrets of the ill-fated 2014 production of The Birthday Party. (Photo credit: John Perrin Flynn)

In 2014 the Geffen Playhouse set out to produce Harold Pinter’s first great play, The Birthday Party. They assembled a star-studded British cast and an Oscar-winning director. Ticket sales were through the roof and expectations for the production were high. What ended up happening is unbelievable, outrageous – and totally true. You may think you know the whole infamous story, but you don’t – until now! You can hear all the real backstage secrets from Nick Ullett, an actor from the cast – and a witness to the entire theatrical disaster – in his new solo show The Birthday Party: A Theatrical Catastropheonstage at Rogue Machine through April 8.

“My wife doesn’t want me to tell this story,” Nick Ullett reveals. “She feels that since I’m naming real names and a real theatre in LA, it’s too dangerous a story to tell. It would be harmful to me. She said “Tell this story and you’ll destroy your career.” To which I replied “What career?”

But what a remarkable career Ullett has had since, as a newly arrived Brit on American soil following the British invasion started by the Beatles, he performed as part of the comedy team Hendra and Ullett on every available television variety show including six Ed Sullivan Shows, and opened for acts such as Lenny Bruce and Simon and Garfunkel. He went on to write plays produced by Theatre Neo in Los Angeles and the Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA. Co-writing with Rick Podell he sold a film, “Love Lines,” to Random Productions in New York, and a pilot, “Seize the Day,” to Fox TV. Nick has traveled the country telling stories for “The Moth,” and he was a commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” After appearing on (and off) Broadway, he was under contract to NBC and wrote and performed the solo show Laughing Matters. Local credits include Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre with his wife Jenny O’Hara, Justin Tanners El Nino at Rogue Machine, Major Barbara and The School for Scandal at the Mark Taper Forum, along with many other TV and stage credits.

But of course, I was intrigued by the chance to hear about true backstage trials and tribulations during a promising professional production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. Selected to direct the production was William (call me “Billy”) Friedkin, an award-winning film director who insisted on only real British actors for the production. And since he had just directed the play as a film, he expected the stage actors to handle the material as he had staged it for a camera rather than for a live audience. But without allowing the actors to pause for live audience reactions, Ullett knew the humor would fall flat. But Friedkin would not allow any actor’s input on his directing style.

Friedkin also insisted on hiring the rather rotund and always angry actor Steven Berkoff to play a pivotal role that encompassed almost the entire second act. But Berkoff’s constant anger, aimed at the director, actors, and production team members, led to several “I quit” proclamations, with the final one accepted by Friedkin who had engineered it. But when the part could not be re-cast, even after the very expensive set was built that included the Friedkin-demanded red velvet curtain to hide the set from the audience upon arrival (not a Geffen standard practice), and with the first month of the run already sold out, out of frustration another actor quit which forced the play to close prior to opening. Ullett estimates the Geffen Playhouse lost a million dollars attempting to produce it.

Ullett was sorry to see the rest of the great company lose their jobs along with him, not to mention the lavish meals Friedkin insisted the Geffen supply for everyone working each day. But with his tales of weird auditions, clashing egos, psycho stars, and taking on the role of equity rep for the cast, Ullett’s comments about the strange ways in which Friedkin was allowed to run the production doomed it from the start. What an entertaining ride it was listening to a master storyteller recount the fiasco, and then answer questions from the audience afterwards.

The Birthday Party: A Theatrical Catastrophe, directed by Lisa James, runs at 8 p.m. Mondays and Fridays; 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 8 (dark March 29) upstairs in the intimate Henry Murray Stage at Rogue Machine at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles 90046. Tickets are $35 at (Seniors $30 / Students $20), or for more information, call 855-585-5185. Street parking only and be sure to read parking signs carefully. Run time is approximately 60 minutes (no intermission) with a short talkback afterwards.

As the exciting finale of Landslide: The Music of Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk” was performed with the Long Beach Symphony and the Long Beach Poly marching band. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Ruggirello, President of Long Beach Symphony)

During their 2023-2024 season, I have attended the Long Beach Symphony Pops concerts saluting the music of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. This past weekend, I attendedLandslide: The Music of Fleetwood Mac featuring Landslide band members Jennifer Jo Oberle (who also wrote the symphony orchestrations), Shane Soloski, incredible guitarist Walter Ino, Ali Handal, Sven Martin, and Marc Slutsky, backed by the full symphony orchestra conducted with great flair by Mark Alpizar. The evening paid homage to one of the most popular bands in music history, recreating hits from Fleetwood Mac’s incredible catalog of music. It was great evening of music nostalgia!

Landslide’s genuine love and reverence for the music and personalities of Fleetwood Mac, backed by the full symphony orchestra conducted by Mark Alpizar, captivated fans with an authentic, full-bodied concert experience featuring the group’s signature songs combining rock and pop, including “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Gypsy,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Dreams,” “Landslide,” and many more. Even more excitement was generated during the concert’s finale when the Long Beach Poly marching band joined in for “Tusk” which had the audience on its feet dancing to the musically explosive experience! 

At each side of the stage, large screens enhanced close-up onstage visibility, and dance floors offered audience members a chance to get up and groove to the music, whether in pairs or alone, adding even more energy to the arena. Attendees also had the option of picnicking at tables with either their own food or by ordering meals from a pre-ordered catalog. Cash bars and a limited selection of food items were also available for purchase onsite. 

The Long Beach Symphony POPS concerts take place at the Long Beach Arena, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach with doors opening at 6:30pm for pre-show dining prior to the show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Up next in the series is Disco Fever Dance Party — featuring Classical Night Fever on Saturday, May 4. Get your tickets and be ready to dance the night away! Tickets and info at

Southern “Daddy’s Girl” Clarinda Ross performs Spit Like a Big Girl on Saturday, March 30 during the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival. (Photo courtesy of LAWTF.)

Founded in 1993 by Adilah Barnes and Miriam Reed, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival holds the distinction of being the oldest Annual Solo Festival in Los Angeles celebrating powerful women performers. A critically-acclaimed international festival, LAWTF has produced shows for close to 700 extraordinary artists from around the globe. These multicultural and multi-disciplined solo performers represent diverse disciplines such as theatre, dance, storytelling, performance art, performance poetry, spoken word, mime, music, and song. The program is made possible in part by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles.

The 31st annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival,directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, has a roster of accomplished co-hosts during its six programs March 28-31, beginning with a Gala on Thursday night. This year’s overall theme is Telling Our Truths.The performances will take place at the Theatre 68 Arts Complex at 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For more information, festival scheduling and tickets, visit