Martini Talk: The Homecoming

Ah, just in time for the holidays Harold Pinter's Pulitzer and Tony winning drama about a family that learns to share has returned to Broadway in a 40th anniversary production that features some fine acting and plenty of delightfully dark moments.  If Tracy Letts' gang from Osage County gets big laughs from being a dysfunctional family, the uneasy humor in The Homecoming eventually reveals a North London family that turns out to be discomfortingly functional.

Ian McShane heads an edgy ensemble as widower Max, a brash and bullying head of a household that distinctly lacks a "woman's touch."  Eugene Lee's set has an enormous hole in the wall that apparently has been there for quite a spell and seems to bother none of the four male residents.  Though Max continually taunts his decent but meek brother Sam (an excellent Michael McKean), questioning the masculinity of the never married fellow who woks as a chauffer, and gives questionable encouragement to his slow witted son, Joey (Gareth Saxe), an aspiring boxer whose only shortcomings are that he hasn't learned to defend nor to attack, he's up against an iceberg in his daily friction with son Lenny (Raul Esparza, who plays cold, snitty and emotionally distant as well as anyone).

When his smug eldest son Teddy (James Frain) returns home after nine years in America as a philosophy professor and introduces his wife Ruth (Eve Best), the boys see her the way they see all women; as a whore.  It's what Ruth does with that knowledge that shifts The Homecoming into high gear as sexual mind games become the weapon of choice and a cigar is exactly what you think it is.

Pinter, of course, is the playwright who has a pause named after him.  Those scripted moments of silence, nicknamed "Pinter pauses," which are meant to say double what the spoken words convey, are deftly handled by Best to gradually clue us in on what kind of homecoming the title is referring to.  In her second act scene with Esparza, a sort of slutty chess match, the two of them masterfull y use the unspoken language to reveal more about their characters than you might have expected.

But for the most part, director Daniel Sullivan's production runs a bit brisker than your typical Pinter, perhaps in order to heighten the play's comedy since the shock value of forty years ago seems a bit tame today.  Best does steam up the place quite a bit, though, with calculated leg crosses, riveting stares and dry comments that can arouse as they emasculate.  Happy holidays, everyone!

By the way, I just found out they got a guy playing Pirelli in the Sweeney Todd movie.  Don't ya hate it when directors take liberties with the material like that?

Michael Dale's Martini Talk appears every Monday and Thursday on BroadwayWorld.com.

Photos by Scott Landis: Top: Raul Esparza, Michael McKean, and Ian McShane; Bottom: James Frain and Eve Best.



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