AISLE SAY New York
by Harold Pinter
Directed by Dan Sullivan
Starring Ian McShane, Raul Esparza, Eve Best,
Cort Theatre / 138 West 48th Street
Reviewed by David Spencer
Can Harold PinterŐs The Homecoming truly be 40 years old? It didnŐt seem its age even ten years ago in a decent yet less sharply edged revival, but in director Dan SullivanŐs first-rate remounting it seems as fresh as a daisy—black though that daisy may be. An elliptical comedy-drama of dysfunctional family dynamics, it keeps certain details tantalizingly and provocatively enigmatic, yet there is an oddly sharp clarity informing what remains. We may not know the actual facts informing the extreme behavior of this family we only know by first namesÉbut thereŐs unmistakably a history of rage and possibly violence between father Max (a study in roaring impotence by Ian McShane) and son Lenny (a portrait of casual menace by Raul Esparza). ItŐs evident in the calm disdain Lenny has for Max, that blithely mocks even the notion of respect, and the warnings of parental discipline whose assurance and bravado go right up to the brink—but never past—the point of delivery; Max never thought heŐd grow old, and Lenny knows it.
Lenny, though, is also not always formidable. Despite his own bravado, he is putty in the hands of Ruth (the quietly simmering Eve Best), wife to his visiting philosopher brother Teddy (always-slightly disconnected as portrayed by James Frain). And Teddy seems unnaturally philosophical about EveŐs seductive openness toward Lenny and boxer-brother Joey (amusingly befuddled Gareth Saxe). And then there is Uncle Sam, marginalized in his job as chauffer, marginalized at home, trying to find pride in having mastered the art of being unobtrusive (the other side of impotence, expressed not with a roar, but with the complacency that presages implosion, by Michael McKean).
If The Homecoming has undergone a transformation in the way we perceive it, four decades later, it may be, curiously, that PinterŐs deliberately withheld details donŐt create quite so much avant garde eeriness; with audiences much more hip to the language and concepts of modern psychology, the play seems less a cryptic mystery than an essay in how pathology can be diagnosed through subtext. It sounds like a small, and possibly even over-intellectualized distinction, but itŐs one that makes the characters more like us and people we know, and less like characters we observe from a bemused remove.
The performances are all glorious, the atmosphere is thick with expressed and frustrated passions and sensuality (my eveningŐs companion, the lady in my life, thought it one of the steamiest things sheŐd ever seen on a stage) and all-in-all the production qualifies as Pinter-perfect. With that clear, all the other mysteries are welcomeÉ