Feature

Review of Reviews: Stage

The Homecoming

The Homecoming
Cort Theater, New York, (212) 239-6200

★★★

Forty years ago, the New York debut of The Homecoming established Harold Pinter as a major playwright, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Ever since, it’s been known as one of the Nobel Prize winner’s best plays. “It really is that good,” as a new Broadway production shows. This portrait of a family of working-class North London men, dominated by a snarling father, Max, and clever younger brother Lenny, at first seems like any other “kitchen-sink drama.” But Pinter adds a twist in the form of Ruth, one of the brothers’ wives, who proves more than able to hold her own. The power struggles of Max, Lenny, and Ruth are at the core of Pinter’s play, whose brilliance lies “in sliding imperceptibly from the ordinary surface to the primal darkness of what lies beneath.”

Pinter’s characters excel at spitting venom and exchanging insults, said Linda Winer in Newsday. The members of this family “loathe one another with a primal elegance,” and the playwright employs his inimitable command of dialogue to turn the conflicts between old and young, and male and female, into mythic confrontations. Director Daniel Sullivan “resists any temptation to soften Pinter’s stylized angles or round out secrets with comforting psychological implications.” Ian McShane, of TV’s Deadwood, makes the elderly Max dashing, scary, and charismatic, while Raul Esparza, previously known on Broadway for musical roles, “has a mesmerizing slickness as Lenny.” But the performance that really makes the evening work belongs to British actress Eve Best, who casts a spell as Ruth. She embodies the men’s mother-whore perspective on women while also effortlessly transcending it. “The simple act of removing a scarf from her head becomes a deliberate sensual conundrum, a master class in unexpressed expressionism.”

Unfortunately, all these fine actors are rarely on the same page, said Jacques le Sourd in the Westchester County, N.Y., Journal News. “The fun of a Harold Pinter play is in its brooding sense of menace and its famous pauses.” But rather than savor the conflicts, the cast often races through the best parts. This exacerbates the ambiguity Pinter builds into the play’s conclusion, when Ruth “calmly agrees to be sold into prostitution to support the men.” Some have called this play misogynistic; others think it’s boldly feminist. But this production just makes it seem confusing.

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