Monday, December 17, 2007

Did Critics Crown This Year's Homecoming King?

Did Critics Crown This Year's Homecoming King?

Yesterday, the second Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming made a mostly triumphant return at the Cort Theatre.

Daniel Sullivan helms the 40th anniversary incarnation, which stars Raúl Esparza, Michael McKean, Ian McShane, Eve Best, James Frain and Gareth Saxe. Critics largely praised the production, reserving some of their most favorable accolades for Best; however, they were across the board on Esparza's first non-musical Rialto performance.

Commencing his review simply by stating "First of all, it really is that good," The New York Times' Ben Brantley positively raves: "[T]he first-rate revival that opened Sunday night at the Cort Theater makes electrifyingly clear, The Homecoming is every bit as big as its reputation....It insists that some shadowy part of you is part of it. It burrows under you skin and festers....And the fine cast assembled for Daniel Sullivan's new production -- including Eve Best and Raúl Esparza in benchmark performances -- grasps the power of holding back in making a fathoms-deep impression."

Proclaiming this a "diamond-edged revival," David Rooney of Variety similarly marvels: "The director's lucid, unblinking work is matched by a riveting ensemble, their vileness inching under the skin in ways as psychologically disturbing as they are theatrically bracing....[E]ven while withholding a full understanding of what drives the characters' actions, the play confronts its audience with the uncomfortable truth that there's a little of their base, animalistic cunning in all of us."

Labeling the revival an "admirable production," Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press says the show "...reconfirms its status as a contemporary classic....Eve Best was a sensational Josie Hogan last season in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten. As Ruth, she's a different kind of earth mother, more erotically charged, yet distant and forbidding. In this battle of the sexes, she definitely has the upper hand. And gets to display a great pair of legs. James Frain turns in a fine, deceptively understated performance as her acquiescent husband, and Gareth Saxe personifies dumb brute strength as the would-be prize fighter."

Deeming this a "lucid production," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News also offers his welcome to this Homecoming: "There's plenty to chew on about power, sex, morality, misogyny and family, which Pinter, a 2005 Nobel Prize winner, serves up with signature intelligence, mystery and ambiguity. Daniel Sullivan's astute direction captures the distinct rhythms of Pinter's dialogue, as the production casts a strange spell that grips you tight. McKean gives Sam poignancy, while Frain's reserve feels right for the intellectual Teddy. The robust Saxe is well cast as the tongue-tied Joey, an amateur boxer who, unlike his dad, never mastered 'how to defend and to attack.' Best follows her Broadway debut in A Moon for the Misbegotten with more fine work. In a beat, Ruth's cool detachment turns icy; you sense she is always acutely aware of the physical power she possesses."

Concluding that you "follow (Pinter) at your own risk," John Simon of Bloomberg neatly summarizes his thoughts in the first paragraph of his review: "The Homecoming has been lovingly revived on Broadway with good direction, a fine cast and convincing production design. Though every prospect pleases, only the play is vile. It is widely considered the Nobel laureate's masterpiece; rather than as a drawback, its making no sense is perceived as a challenge."

Calling it a "fascinating and entertaining piece," New York Post's Clive Barnes uses his three-star review to lament: "[T]he play, 40 years on, has not worn as well as I would have expected. Once Pinter was generally regarded as a possible successor to Samuel Beckett in nihilistic existentialism. Now he seems a markedly lesser talent. Yet it's difficult to imagine an all-over better cast or a more persuasive reading; led by McShane's ugly and embittered patriarch, Esparza's smoothly confident Lenny, Frain's shiftily ambivalent Teddy and the wonderful Best, whose smugly conspiratorial smile, caps the play's ending."

Eric Grode of the New York Sun also offers a primarily solid endorsement: "This shabby all-male North London home may reek of sweat and cigar smoke, but Mr. Sullivan's forceful mounting, led by Ian McShane and Eve Best as the two primary combatants, breathes vivifying air into several of the play's mustier corners.Somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Sullivan's reputation as an exacting but empathic actors' burnished, not offset, by Mr. Pinter's deterministic worldview....Ms. Best's mastery of Ruth's icy allure is as complete as her command of romantic anxiety and impulsiveness was in last season's A Moon for the Misbegotten....In contrast to Mr. McShane's two-packs-a-day croak, Mr. Esparza employs a wheedling, almost adolescent speaking voice — very similar to one he used to campy effect in Taboo. In fact, he grabs quick laughs on several occasions, severely limiting the potency of his later scenes."

Chalk up yet another solid December opening. This limited run is slated to perform through April 13, 2008.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Opening: Pinter's Homecoming Returns To Broadway (December 17, 2007)
Esparza's Homecoming Finds Him In Good Company (July 24, 2007)

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At 17 December, 2007, Anonymous Richard said...

next to Albee, Pinter is King. As John Lahr mentions in the New Yorker, Pinter changed Theatre. I am thrilled to read that this revival is great. Without a doubt, it's one of Pinter's best Plays. I look forward to it. Let's hear it for some juicy and dark TRUTH on Broadway for once. Letts and Pinter hit it out of the park.!! Not to torture this too much but , I can't believe the difference between these Plays and Sorkin's snoozer. It's the difference between a light bulb and a roaring camp fire.

At 17 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Richard, Like you, I'm really looking forward to seeing this one.

And given what you've just said, here's a little irony for you. The last time I caught Letts on stage was in Pinter's Betrayal when it was revived at Steppenwolf earlier this year alongside Amy Morton and Ian Barford.

I said this about Letts: "In a stunning performance, Letts offers up a deliciously deceptive slow burn -- so deceptive that clueless Jerry never grasps that his best friend is on to his own deceit. What I admire about Letts is that he completely loses himself into every role he takes on, and Betrayal's Robert is further proof of his versatility."

Lest anyone forget, Tracy Letts is also a magnificent actor.

At 17 December, 2007, Anonymous richard said...

I forgot that Tracy was an actor too. I pulled up some Chicago reviews and he is very well liked. There are quite a few good interviews floating around now with all of his Play press. He is a down to earth and what seems like a humble guy. Did you ever see his Killer Joe at SOHO rep years ago? Like Pinter , both of these guys are good actors too. I think that it helps with the writing and vice versa. AND, I love that neither of these two guys came out of an MFA program in Playwriting.

At 17 December, 2007, Anonymous richard said...

darn, I wish that I had seen that Betrayal. It looks like it was great. I need to get to Chicago more often.

At 17 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


Chicago is indeed a great city for theatre filled with many great companies including renowned names like Steppenwolf and Goodman, along with such outstanding fledgling companies like The Hypocrates and The Pavement Group.

Back to Tracy Letts ... I've now had the true thrill of seeing him perform in so many incredibly varied roles with such perfection and distinction that I can't help but think if he wanted to move to Broadway or Hollywood, he'd be accepted with open arms. And having met him before, I can tell you that he is a very down-to-earth, humble man.

At 17 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Richard, One final note. Given your disdain for The Farnsworth Invention, you might enjoy the latest comments posted to my review.

At 17 December, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

As you know, I was absolutely blown away by Eve Best in "A Moon for the Misbegotten." I wish I could see this show. I'm glad she's getting more recognition. It would be great if she got another Tony nomination.

And I went back and reread your review of "Betrayal." It's pretty cool to think how many of these actors I've seen on stage now that
I've seen "August: Osage County."

You are so right about Chicago theater. In my opinion, the Steppenwolf ensemble is not simply made up of some of Chicago's best actors, they're some of the best actors anywhere!

And it's very cool that you've seen Tracy Letts on stage. Funny how the name really didn't mean anything to me when you first wrote that review! Now, I'm so envious that you've seen him act, and talked to him!

At 17 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I'm hoping audiences will soon recognize what a force Eve Best is to be reckoned with. She's an amazing actress with talent to spare.

At 17 December, 2007, Blogger Aaron Riccio said...

Richard; you mention Albee and Pinter . . . are you perhaps forgetting Beckett? Watching "Eh Joe" as part of the "Beckett Shorts" last night, I couldn't help but remember how influenced by Beckett Pinter was.

Moreover, my favorite excerpt of yours, Steve, was Simon's, as I agree wholly with him. The play is vile; the symbolism so totally throws away humanity that I see no point in having to sit through two hours of more and more of the same. And though he offers up "the challenge" of the play to those who would defend it, I'm in the camp that strongly things it just "doesn't make sense."

At 31 December, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Aaron - My one question back to you is whether you could recommend the production?


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