No matter what anyone writes about the plays, and productions of plays, by Harold Pinter, you can be sure of one thing. Everybody’s right, and everybody’s wrong. Nothing’s certain because there are too many loose ends, vast oceans full of things unspoken, and enough wiggle room in the silences that almost anything is possible.
And it’s brilliant.
The humor and the horror both have the same source: Pinter’s bizarre family of misfit men, and the woman who comes into their lives and turns everything on its head. There’s your garden variety dysfunctional family, and then there’s these people. The Homecoming is a family portrait dipped in acid.
|the homecoming, playing through february 15 at gremlin theatre. for tickets ($20) and information, see gremlin-theatre.org.|
Max (Gabriel Angieri) is a retired butcher railing against the end of his life and everyone around him. Also living under the same roof with Max in London are his brother Sam (Jim Pounds), content to be well thought of in his job as a chauffer; and two of Max’s grown sons—young Joey (Ian Miller) who works in construction and trains to be a boxer, and Lenny (Charles Hubbell). I’m still not entirely sure what it is Lenny does for a living, but it can’t be good. Max’s eldest son, Teddy (David Tufford), is a professor of philosophy based in America. But Teddy comes home for a visit with his wife Ruth (Katherine Kupiecki), and quickly wishes he hadn’t.
Much of the humor comes from the interaction of these supremely mismatched characters. If they weren’t related by blood and marriage, they’d have nothing to do with one another. The stream of wildly inappropriate things they say to each other is jaw-dropping. The audience laughs most of the time because they can’t believe someone just said that. Still more of the comedy stems from the collision of the conflicting narratives that the family has constructed for itself around its history and its current state. Max keeps insisting on an idyllic past full of happy memories, but is just as quick to rant about bitter memories that keep bubbling to the surface of his mind. Sam is tireless in trying to get Max to be reasonable. Lenny knows better than to be intimidated by his father, and takes the lead whenever the opportunity presents itself. Poor Joey just isn’t quite bright enough to keep up with the shifting allegiances and mood swings going on around him. Teddy never seems to know what hit him.
Most of the hits that really sting are landed by Ruth. But unlike the rest of the clan she’s married into, she’s not into histrionics. She’s a quiet, patient sort. She’s the new center of gravity in the house, and eventually, everyone gets pulled into her orbit. To say much more to those who haven’t seen or read the play would be giving away some of the more abrupt and bewildering turns in the plot, so I’ll refrain. Just know that the definitions of power, gender, villains and victims all get mighty slippery. Labels don’t stick to these people very well. Just when you’ve made up your mind to like or hate them, they go and do something that bends your mind back around the other way.
Matt Sciple seems to have been waiting all his life to direct this play, because he doesn’t miss a single beat. Sciple gets uniformly wonderful performances from every member of the cast. Every word is savored, every silence is loaded. The design team of Carl Shoenborn (sets & lights), A. Emily Heaney (costumes) and in particular Katharine Horowitz (sound, a creepy mix of noise and music that fits perfectly) all deliver the look of this ramshackle threadbare world in loving detail. I often sat there thinking, “Pinter would have enjoyed the hell out of this production.”
I have to admit, having seen a lesser production of this script in the past, I came in with some trepidation. This sick little comedy completely won me over. If you think you hate Pinter, come see this and be delighted in being wrong. If you’ve never seen good Pinter, I can’t think of a better introduction. Gremlin Theatre’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming is so good, it’s almost unfair.