nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
December 4, 2006
The revival of David Storey's Home, now at the Beckett Theatre, is a double launching for The Actors Company Theatre (TACT): that is, it is TACT'S first season on Theater Row and it is a full production rather than a reading. And what a production it is!
Who or what to praise first? The perfectly-structured play? The meticulous direction by Scott Alan Evans? Or the marvelous cast?
Let's take them one by one and give each its due.
Storey has created an emotional journey of small, ostensibly meaningless talk, incomplete sentences, long silences and pregnant pauses, all of which pull the audience in and raise multitudes of questions—who are these characters and what are they hiding? Why are they in the park and what is the relationship between them? These questions build and so does the emotional investment. Storey takes his time in unfolding the answers in the form of hints, innuendos, and most of all words not spoken. All of this may sound inaccessible and cerebral, but nothing could be further from the truth. These characters go straight to the heart, and there is nothing to do but to root for their small victories—like making it through the day.
Essentially, the story depicts a day in the life of four characters who happen to meet in a large, well-manicured garden or park—the one spot with two chairs and a table. First, Harry appears, followed shortly by Jack, both proper, middle-aged Englishman. They take in the sun and talk casually. But, of course, it is never casual. It is more like sparring, guarding secrets they find too painful to divulge. Typically innocuous topics, such as marriage and children, send the characters retreating to the safest of all subjects—the weather. After a walk in the garden, the men return to find their seats occupied by two motley women, Marjorie and Kathleen, who offer warmth and honesty—just what the deluded men have been avoiding.
To perform this play without impeccable direction or an expert ensemble cast would be a sure recipe for disaster. Fortunately, that is not the case here. Scott Alan Evans, co-artistic director of TACT, keeps his actors tightly-wound and ever-present. Hints that something is not quite right are dropped before words are spoken, but it is the character's reactions to simple questions that indicate the powder keg barely hidden. For all the talkiness of Home, Evans keeps the emotional journey traveling at a crisp clip and I, for one, did not want to be left behind. Evans knows how long to string a pause and where to insert hesitation. Small gestures, like the touch of a hand, nearly explode with humanity. And, the sterling cast understands what both Storey and Evans are trying to accomplish.
Larry Keith as Harry sets the mood as he places his hat, gloves, and daily on the table with extreme precision. He is relaxing, but not relaxed. Keith presents a magnificent shield of defense that is slowly chipped away as the play progresses, ending as the day does, somewhat darker. Jack, played by Simon Jones, provides comic relief. Prone to bragging, he offers the beginning of innumerable stories about a host of relatives—some possibly real, but probably not. Cynthia Harris adds an appropriately resigned and suspicious Marjorie to the mix, contributing what the other characters cannot accept—a moment of honesty. In an ensemble production, it would be rude to suggest that anyone steals a scene, but Cynthia Darlow comes just short of that when her character Kathleen breaks into fitful giggles—giggles that tell as much as the stories the others are trying to tell. Filling out the cast is Ron McClary, who aptly portrays the very sad case of Alfred.
Bold trimmed hedges dominate the marvelous set designed by Mimi Lien. In essence, it is a sea of green broken only by two small, white wrought-iron chairs and a matching table. Subtle lighting by Mary Louise Geiger—so illuminating and hopeful at the start of the day and dusky dark at the end—adds to the play's pathos. David Toser's costumes bring definition to the characters, and David Macdonald's music wafts soothingly as it is supposed to. Daryl Bornstein incorporates sounds, such as birds chirping, to lend a bit of realism to an otherwise surrealistic performance.
It is understandable why, according to TACT's artistic directors, Home has not seen a major production since 1971. The high standards required by all the professionals could prove intimidating. Fortunately, TACT in every way is up to the task. It is exhilarating to see a play so gratifying and a reminder that great theater is both available and affordable.