Harold Pinter is one of the most acclaimed playwrights in the world. He is the author of over 30 plays and more than two dozen screenplays. His list of awards are too numerous to mention, but he has won just every award imaginable including the 2005 Noble Prize in Literature. His play "The Homecoming," which debuted on Broadway in 1967, is today considered a classic, although when it premiered in London two years earlier it was greeted with a mixed reception by the press and public alike.
Although it won the 1967 Tony Award for best play, it was still the subject of much speculation and debate. Over the years its critics have mellowed and today the play is considered by many to be Pinter’s masterwork. The playwright himself has said "The Homecoming" changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theater was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken."Indeed in all of Pinter’s plays what is not said speaks volumes. His works contain numerous pauses and it is in these moments that his plays are the most cryptic, but only when those moments are filled by the actors. Otherwise the pauses fall flat and the menacing quality so necessary to the interpretation is lost along with the mystery. All of the action of "The Homecoming" takes place at an old house in North London, where Max (Ian McShane) the 70 year old family patriarch, a retired butcher, lives with his two sons and his brother Sam (Michael McKean) a first rate chauffeur. Max’s dim witted youngest son, Joey (Gareth Saxe), is training to be a boxer, but works in demolition. Max bickers constantly with his oldest son Lenny (Raul Esparza), whose means of income is a puzzlement. This has been an all male household for many years since the death of Max’s wife Jessie.Max’s son Teddy (James Frain), a philosopher who has been absent for nine years, returns home in the middle of the night with his wife Ruth (Eve Best). The two are returning home to the United States and their three sons after a vacation in Venice, when they apparently decide to make a surprise visit to the family that Ruth has never met.Their visit brings a woman into the house for the first time since Jessie’s death and Ruth’s effect on the men is the essence of "The Homecoming." The themes are power, desire, uncertainty and most definitely sex.
The current revival with a talented ensemble of actors helmed by the highly regarded Daniel Sullivan is unfortunately uneven and disappointing. The crux of the problems appears to lie with Ian McShane’s performance. He looks too good and is much too lively. His over the top performance is all over the place. Yes, he flares up with sudden bursts of anger, but lacking the requisite menace. His Max is not the least bit frightening and none of his pauses are filled with the necessary undercurrents robbing the play of much needed tension. He never appears feeble or crazed. Quite the contrary he is vigorously alive and at the end of the play when he cries out "I’m not old," you believe him instead of pitying the old miserable bastard.
The gifted singer Raul Esparza can be quite a good actor in the right part, but here he is decidedly miscast. He makes a valiant attempt, but his work feels postured as opposed to lived in, lacking the dark dangerous underbelly the role requires.
Michael McKean as Sam the chauffeur has some nice moments, but Eve Best as the sexy Ruth turns in the finest work of the evening. When she seductively crosses her legs, the moment becomes the highlight of the evening. Her Ruth demands attention with just the subtlest of movements. She wins the evening’s power struggle hands down rendering the men impotent, but her sparing partners are such light weights that the effect is like watered down vodka, missing that cumulative sting. As a result the shocking ending falls flat and the play’s reputation outshines Mr. Sullivan’s tame production.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
"The Homecoming" opened on Broadway December 16, 2007 at the Court Theatre, 138 West 48th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Tickets are available at www.teleharge.com by calling 212-239-6200 or at the theatre box office.