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A CurtainUp Review
With Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer
Generally acknowledged as the patron saint of the dramatic or pregnant pause, Pinter is more generously admired for his ability to hold in abeyance the latent mysteries within his texts that include such famously puzzling plays as The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, No Man's Land, and Betrayal. Able to use what is left unspoken or at least half-spoken and giving it the dramatic hook it deserves is a formidable achievement. Pinter uses that gift with fastidious skill in this work.
Forty years has not dimmed the menacing black humor, the chilling cliff-hanging twists, and the unpredictable characters embedded in The Homecoming. More apparent than ever is the play's need for an ensemble effort, something that director Sullivan has managed to instill despite the company's cultural mix. The brisk pace that he takes can hardly be said to be calibrated in deference to Peter Hall's original more measured staging for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1968. A quickened pace is fine, although it works better in Act I when the unknown and the unexpected propel the action. If Act II is a bit of a letdown, it is because the play becomes more aggressively outrageous, if not absurd, as it relies on the manifestation of the psycho-sexual projections of the characters rather than any construct of reality.
And how much fun it is to watch these fine actors portray the multiple layers of their existence. Ian McShane, no stranger to Pinter having played Mick in the television production of The Caretaker, is a hoot as Max, the domineering and terrorizing patriarch who bullies his three sons into submissiveness. Best known for his award-winning performance as Al Sweearengen in HBO's series Deadwood, McShane bulldozes his way through the old family home, brandishing a cane as lethal as any sword.
A cumulative tension, most of it sexual, mounts as the youngest and middle sons — Joey (Gareth Saxe) a dim-witted boxer and Lenny (Raul Esparza), an arrogant pimp— become intrigued and ultimately mesmerized by the covert sexuality of the older brother's wife Ruth (Eve Best). Esparza, an actor of exceptional talent and versatility, who gave the definitive performance of Bobby last season in Company, is right at home in Pinterland. He injects his scenes with Best's Ruth with the kind of deliberately devilish baiting that is both exciting and unnerving.
Teddy (James Frain), the oldest son, a Ph.D who has brought his wife to visit the family, is faced with the possibility that she may be deliberately insinuating herself into the family's favor. But that is speculative, typical of the way the play hints at many motives and many reasons for a lot of very peculiar but also vastly entertaining behavior.
Best, who won just about every award there was last season for her performance as Josie, in A Moon for the Misbegotten (review), probably has the play's toughest role as she goes from a point of veiled indifference to various states of complicity, a journey made with the prescribed minimum of physical action. The harrowing edge to her portrayal is riveting.
McKean gives a fine performance as Max's gentle brother Sam, a chauffeur by profession who harbors family secrets. Saxe is also fascinating to watch as the pathetic Joey, whose lust proves as listless as his boxing career.
The scene in which the family has a ritualistic cigar light-up is marvelously funny and also commendable for not affecting the air in the theater. Eugene Lee's setting did what was expected of it to suggest a home without a woman's touch, including the large gape in the plaster board wall that the men have no intention of ever fixing. This determinedly foggy but entertaining play never ceases to arouse speculation to its meaning: Women as whores in the eyes of men? Men as the ways and means to power and possession in the eyes of women? But whatever it is, a good time is sure to be had by all.
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The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide