BWW Reviews: THE HOMECOMING at Center Stage

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In the 1970s now-a-cult-classic TV show, Monty Python, the British comic troupe performed a sketch, "the most awful family" in England. This "contest" featured an old man wiping his feet on a loaf of bread, a troglodytic son consuming inordinate amounts of beans, a screeching cat (puppet, of course) shoved halfway through a wall--well, all perfectly awful, to the point of hilarity.

One wonders if Harold Pinter's family depicted in his play, The Homecoming, served as inspiration for this skit, as Pinter's spotty, degenerate crew would certainly have been a frontrunner for Python's "most awful" prize.

Kudos to outgoing artistic director, Irene Lewis, and her team of scenic, lighting, sound and costume designers who present us a decaying, poor-end-of-London home, painted in post-WWII dinge, a perfect reflection of the cast of characters who stride the stage. Pinter's play is a portrait of family dysfunction, and Lewis and company help achieve this end by literally framing the stage.

Pinter loses no time in unveiling the ugliness of this family. The patriarch, Max (Jarlath Conroy), shambles on stage, barking, "Where are the scissors?" to which his Italian-ankle-booted son, Lenny (Trent Dawson) replies, " Why don't you shut up, you daft prat?"

It's not exactly "The Waltons."

And it's all downhill from there.  

One wonders how this group keeps from tearing each other to pieces every night. Dawson's Lenny fixes everyone with a snake-eyes-like gaze, speaking in cool, clipped tones. He smiles, mocking sweetness but oozing malevolence. His words are all "stuff and nonsense," but the feeling and intent are pure evil.

Sebastian Naskaris' Joey, on the other hand, plays no word games; in fact, he barely speaks at all. A punch-drunk would-be boxer, Joey has all the engaging qualities of a piece of used furniture. Naskaris plays Joey with a Lennie-from-Of-Mice-and-Men quality, just substitute roid-rage-brute-lust for simplistic sweetness.

Center Stage staple Laurence O'Dwyer has the sad role of Sam, Max's brother, perhaps the closest thing to a human being in Pinter's play. Sam suffers a rain of insults from Max and even a cuffing with a cane but never responds, until the play's end, but his efforts, like his character, are impotent.

Steven Epp is Teddy, the oldest of the three sons, who somehow managed to escape to America only to return six years later with a doctorate in philosophy and a wife, Ruth (Felicity Jones). Teddy is Sam's favorite, and it's easy to see why as Teddy is as impotent as Sam, and quite clueless, as one wonders why anyone would want to return to the "bosom" of this particular family?

Jones, in pencil skirt and high heels, is a leonine figure...statuesque on her feet, liquid when supine, she is power in pearls. The boys' attempts to intimidate bounce off her like bullets off Superman.

This being a Pinter play, there are plenty of pauses. And as production dramaturg Whitney Eggers observes in the program notes, the pauses "explicity indicate the success of communication." Characters deliver their lines like ultimatums, challenges, and the pauses allow the players to absorb what is said, their answers first given via body language and facial expression before a word is said in reply.

As Max notes, "You never heard such silence."

Pinter is often described as a master of "the theater of the absurd," and The Homecoming definitely enters a rather bizarre realm where a husband stands idly by while his wife makes out with members of his family...members who discuss "setting up" Ruth as a high-priced prostitute as matter-of-factly as one might chat about the weather or plans for a weekend outing.

But with a turn of her heel or a flip of her hair, it is clear that it is Ruth who will be running this pack of curs.

As per usual, Center Stage delivers a powerful production on all levels, leaving the audience enthralled as one should be when Pinter is well played--like watching a car accident, one is shocked, amazed, and emotionally jarred, departing the theater with a nervous laugh and a "My God, what was that?"

The Homecoming continues its run at Center Stage now through Feb. 20th. For more information, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.

 

 

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Daniel Collins A communications professional for 25 years, Dan Collins was a theater critic for The Baltimore Examiner daily newspaper (2006-2009), covering plays throughout the Baltimore-Columbia area including Center Stage, The Everyman, The Fells Point Corner Theater, Mobtown Players, Vagabond Theater, Cockpit in Court, Spotlighters Theater, The Strand, Single Carrot Theater and others. Mr. Collins has been a reporter, features writer, editor and columnist since 1984, including stints with The Washington Times and the Times Publishing Group (later Patuxent Publishing and now part of The Baltimore Sun) in Baltimore. His freelance writing career has included his work for the Examiner as well as other publications including Baltimore Magazine.


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