nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
December 13, 2007
The overall quality of the new Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's 1967 play The Homecoming is excellent. From the acting and directing on down to the design, this is a top-notch revival of what has come to be regarded as a seminal modern work. Everyone is remarkably successful in interpreting the force of Pinter's vision, which has never before been quite as brutal or chilly to me as it is here (which, if you know anything about Pinter, is kind of the point).
They are so successful, in fact, that I found myself not enjoying most of The Homecoming, which is also kind of the point. Pinter's portrait of caustic family warfare is as pessimistic as they come, and if you're not tuned into his dark wavelength then it may not be for you. Having liked everything of his I've previously seen or read, I was surprised to discover that, in terms of its themes and tone, The Homecoming was indeed not for me. But that doesn't detract from the vicious efficiency of the author's craft.
Set in a rundown North London house, the play introduces a dysfunctional British family going full tilt. The physically diminished patriarch Max is a retired butcher who sits around demanding respect and verbally abusing anyone who doesn't give it to him. He lives with his gentlemanly spinsterish brother, Sam, a chauffeur, and his two sons—Lenny, a sociopathic pimp, and Joey, a prototypical gentle giant who aspires to be a pro boxer. Their days are filled shouting recriminations and threats like "I'll chop your spine off!" at each other while never actually following through. These men are all bark without the bite.
One day Max's third son, Teddy, drops in for a visit with his wife, Ruth. Teddy now lives in America and hasn't been home for many years (his family didn't even know he'd gotten married). His arrival—or rather, Ruth's—is the depth charge that ignites The Homecoming. You see, Max and the rest of his clan aren't used to having a woman around the house (the family matriarch has long since died), and Ruth's appearance awakens the sleeping lusty giant in some of them. Lenny, in particular, is taken with her and concocts an unusual plan to extend her visit—with or without Teddy.
Domination is the name of the game in The Homecoming. All the characters are trying to gain the upper hand—verbally, mentally, emotionally, physically, you name it. Pinter relentlessly pits everyone in psychological warfare against each other from beginning to end and never lets up. Collectively they emphasize all of the mankind's worst traits, with nary a good one in sight. What Pinter means to convey by doing this is never quite clear. Perhaps that humanity, if given a choice, will always give in to their darker, more selfish impulses? I can't say for certain, although it sometimes seems that Pinter is more than happy to let the characters spar for its own sake.
But the cast and crew perform vigorously. Director Daniel Sullivan tacitly conveys the house pecking order with the humorously tense politics of where everyone sits in the living room. Everyone has their place, and when a deviation occurs it is loaded with plate-shifting meaning. Similarly, the large gaping hole set designer Eugene Lee places in the wall above the living room doorway speaks multitudes about the disarray the house has fallen into. And, The Homecoming is packed with strong performances, with standout work coming from Raul Esparza as Lenny, Eve Best as Ruth, and Ian McShane as Max. These three, especially, understand how to fill (and then detonate) those infamous Pinter pauses.
So, as you can see, there is much to recommend The Homecoming. But, one's enjoyment of it will depend heavily on personal taste. The accomplishments of these superb artists, and the potential thrill of seeing a classic text done so well, still may not be enough to brush off the chill generated by this icy production.