Theater Review: The Homecoming

February 6, 2008– (The Blue & White online)

Now that Harold Pinter has been awarded the Nobel prize, his plays have officially entered the canon, and yet a play like The Homecoming, now in a wonderful revival at the Cort Theatre on 48th Street, in many ways feels far more modern than most new plays you’re likely to see on Broadway.

The story of The Homecoming is simple: the curtain opens on an ordinarily unpleasant day in the blue-collar, north London home of Max, his two sons Lenny and Joey, and his brother Sam.  The drama really begins when Max’s oldest son Teddy returns for a surprise visit from America where has been a philosophy professor for nine years. He brings with him his wife Ruth, about whom he has told his family nothing.

Needless to say, Pinter did not become famous as a master storyteller. Eschewing exposition, Pinter allows us only the most vital details of his characters lives, presented intermittently throughout the play’s spare two hours. Thanks to Pinter’s brilliant and meticulous craftsmanship, it is in piecing things together after the play ends that you realize just how much information he has given you and in so few words.

Even in such an outstanding cast, two performances stand out: James Frain as Teddy and Eve Best as Ruth. Frain, in his Broadway debut, is the picture of English restraint and academic arrogance.  Without raising his voice, Frain delivers the play’s most hurtful speech, and even then he remains a study in elegant removal, a chilling example of a man who has had all humanity educated out of him.  As Ruth, Best gives a perfectly austere performance. Whenever she glides on stage Best commands absolute attention with her unsettling combination of studied primness and searing carnality.

The surprise in this production, though, is neither the quality of the performance nor of the play itself; these are well-known actors in one of the most celebrated plays of the last fifty years.  The surprise here is in The Homecoming’s continued ability to shock even jaded theatergoers.  Although the play’s explicit sexuality may not elicit gasps from the audience anymore, by the play’s end I found myself breathless at this all-too-civilized depiction of humanity in a state of such refined decay.

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