Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Homecoming (The SOB Review)

The Homecoming (The SOB Review) - Cort Theatre, New York, NY

**1/2 (out of ****)

Oh, the inhumanity.

That it has taken me nearly two weeks to write this review should tell you something.

As I noted at the top of last week, as I walked away from Broadway's Cort Theatre after seeing Harold Pinter's "classic" The Homecoming for my very first time a week ago Sunday, I felt absolutely dazed leaving the theatre.

I mean, here I had just seen a revival that The New York Times' Ben Brantley had raved about ("It really is that good."). Yet I left with this unsettled, agitated pit in the bottom of my stomach, as if a sucker punch had just landed in my lower abdominals. It has refused to relinquish its position, instead metastasizing into my subconscious, consuming it.

Is that the work of great theatre? Perhaps.

But as Pinter is rightly celebrated for his exceptional use of ambiguity, punctuated by his adroit use of pauses, his inherent nihilism says plenty about his jaundiced ennui with the world. There's a discernable contempt for humankind, as if given the opportunity, we'd all succumb to the most debauched instincts.

While some like Brantley see a mirror being held up to what he perceives as our own lurid, debased vanity ("It insists that some shadowy part of you is part of it....Mr. Pinter, you see, knows where you live."), my vantage point is not quite so devoid of hope, and frankly, I resent being told I'm something I'm not. I'm infinitely more optimistic about human instincts and good triumphing over evil. Call it my "rose-colored myopia," but if I really believed that my fellow men (and women) were so intrisically bad, I think I'd slit my wrists.

That this revival cut me to the quick anyway with its dim view of the world has left me unable to think about anything else. That this revival is exceptionally directed (Daniel Sullivan) and acted with each nuanced pause, gesture and glare conveying volumes more than the spoken word only adds to my lingering consternation.

The title The Homecoming refers to the return home to England for Teddy (James Frain), a philosophy professor, and his wife Ruth (Eve Best). Teddy's been teaching in the United States for years, leaving behind his miserable butcher of a father Max (Ian McShane), his good-hearted chauffeur of an Uncle Sam (Michael McKean) and his two brothers -- the viper pimp Lenny (Raúl Esparza) and the dim pugilist Joey (Gareth Saxe).

It's clear that this is a toxic household before the first word is uttered. As Eugene Lee's decrepit set design underscores, care -- let alone love -- has long since left the building. Max, Sam, Lenny and Joey don't enjoy so much a peaceful existence alongside one another as they parry one derisive invective after another, each malevolently hurled with precision.

Why Teddy would even bother to return, even after a protracted period, is one of many mysteries. He seems to have built a solid, good life for himself and Ruth, along with their three children. They're safe from the vile turpitude that's to be found once they walk inside the front door of Teddy's family home. And yet they come home anyway.

Immediately, an uneasy look sweeps across Ruth's face. It's almost as if she knows this house and knows what to expect and knows what she'll ultimately confront. We really know nothing about her past, but there are hints, especially during her first encounter with Lenny, that this supposedly respectable woman may discern the home's seedy undertow from previous personal experience.

Once she's been introduced to the entire clan, the brinksmanship among the players intensifies with Teddy ready for an early retreat. With bags packed, Teddy summons Ruth to depart, but Lenny seduces her, first asking for a little dance and then getting much more.

From that point on, I felt as though I were caught up in a miasma of mysogyny mixed with Ruth's vexing hubris. As unequivocally vile as this was, it was like car accident -- impossible to look away. For that, I credit Eve Best for a remarkably subtle, layered performance. She says more with her eyes -- and legs, for that matter -- than many actors are capable of conveying with words. Pitted against Esparza's slithery snake of a pimp, who creeped me out plain and simple, Best scores bigtime.

But in a play where evil triumphs over evil, and where the only good falls down and dies without any regard, all I have been able to think about is how the human condition has come to this. What people do any of us know who would really do this to each other? What's more, this is entertainment?

Oh, the inhumanity, indeed.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Deconstructing Harry (January 8, 2008)
Did Critics Crown This Year's Homecoming King? (December 17, 2007)
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 January, 2008, Blogger Mike said...

Totally concur. This show was really hard for me to process, because I really was quite miserable and uncomfortable during it, but I couldn't deny how brilliantly done it was.

At 17 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Mike, That it has stayed with me certainly says something about it.

And you're right. It was brilliantly done. But like you, it made me quite miserable and uncomfortable.

At 22 January, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Steve. As you know, I normally don't give a hoot about straight plays (can you imagine "Homecoming: The Musical?), but I was very taken by your review. It seems as though the production had a very visceral effect on you. Isn't that one sign of effective theater? You were unsettled, even nauseated by what you witnessed. Pinter is notoriously mum about the intent of his plays, but isn't it possible that's the reaction he was going for?

Looking forward to meeting you face-to-face in March!

At 22 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, Yes, I believe that's exactly what Pinter was going for, and yes, the fact that it has stayed with me had me openly questioning my own judgment on whether this was the mark of something truly effective, if not completely satisfying. Talk about an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum.


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