Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pinter: Putting the Fun in Dysfunction? The Irk in Quirky?

"The Homecoming" at the Cort Theatre, February 12, 2008

I'll say first that I haven't seen many productions of Harold Pinter's plays. Actually, I think this is only my second, the first having been the Roundabout's revival of "The Caretaker" a couple of years ago.

With that said, I'm not sure I'm a Pinter fan, at least from an audience perspective.

I've heard it said that film is a director's medium, where stage is more the actor's. I've also heard comments that success in Pinter's work is found in the acting between the lines of dialog. To me that sounds a like a bit of blurring as to whose medium specifically Pinter plays would be.

Entering the world of a Pinter play seems to contain an element of voyuerism. He reveals, layer by layer, the ugliest and most twisted family I've ever seen on a stage. Max (Ian McShane) is the retired butcher and aging bully patriarch of the all-male household, including his brother Sam (Michael McKean) and sons Lenny (Raul Esparza) and Joey (Gareth Saxe). Max's power is fading. Lenny's is growing, as is his contempt and intolerance of his father. Joey is the aspiring boxer, who appears to have taken too many blows to the head already. Sam just wants a peaceful existence.

Teddy (James Frain), the oldest son arrives after a nine year absence with wife Ruth (Eve Best) in tow. They've been visiting Europe away from their home and three sons in the US and have dropped in unannounced. Once Ruth's presence in the house is known, the sexual tension short circuits the entire house, led by Lenny and followed the next morning by Max in a misogynistic game of one-upsmanship. Make no mistake, Ruth can give as good as she gets in this game. And, before you know it, Teddy, Joey, and even Sam in his own befuddled way get in the game, too.

As Max, Mr. McShane wields his cane like the meat cleaver with which his character had spent his career. He carries the same piss and vinegar bluster that he displayed so well in HBO's Deadwood for two seasons. His Max realizes his increasing impotence, both figuratively and literally, fueling his rage.

As the oldest, Teddy, Mr. Frain is the only man in the family who has completed higher education and appears to have risen above his lower class London roots. He is dry and attentive, but plays Teddy distantly, almost as a mere observer in his own life. This detachment is almost chilling as Ruth makes her choice about her own future.

Mr. Esparza's Lenny is jaded and aloof, but ever-opportunistic. It takes some time to figure out that he's something of a high-rolling pimp, running a bordello operation at multiple sites. His deadpan delivery did have some ups and downs in its effectiveness. In the opening scene with Max, it delivers his disdain to his father. Later, it feels more like he's just trying to get all the words out.

Mr. McKean's Sam, a chauffeur, grasps for self-respect, but is painfully cowed in the high-testosterone environment. Mr. Saxe's Joey is at first just a dumb jock, unaware of his physical strength as a weapon against his father's and brother's insults and intimidation. Joey's muscle is put to use in Lenny's business when it comes to recruiting new talent for the family business, though even he doesn't really know of his crimes.

Eve Best gives another splendid performance for New York as Ruth. Buttoned up and wary in her first entrance, she warms to the harsh environment and rises to the challenging with surprising results. Ms. Best gives as good as she gets and fiercely matches the intensity of the performances around her.

Eugene Lee's set is a house that appears under renovation, but is actually under destruction represented by exposed wall studs and ceiling beams. Kenneth Posner's lighting complements well. Jess Goldstein's costumes evoke the period.

Director Daniel Sullivan has done an excellent job filling in between the lines. Tension is established early on and only builds through the evening. He maneuvers this talented cast through what must be an amazing acting experience. It's a somewhat bitter pill for the audience however, as these damaged and angry characters wreak emotional (and sometimes physical) havoc on each other. Pinter is certainly not for the feint of heart and Mr. Sullivan never lets us forget it.

If you're looking to be challenged during your night at the theatre, this is the place to be. Better hurry - this limited run ends April 13.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Mondschein, I want to commend you on a truly thoughtful, excellent review.