Written in 1965, Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” is an enigmatic play that can be interpreted in any number of ways. As performed by a stellar cast in the current Capital Stage production, under the very fine direction of Janis Stevens, the story seems almost absurd, and yet it has so many compelling scenes that is also can be considered very real.
The title refers to the unexpected return to his father’s home of eldest son Teddy after a six-year absence, during which he has gotten married and fathered three children (all boys). Ruth accompanies him, never having met Teddy’s brothers (Lenny and Joey), their father (Max), or their uncle (Max’s brother Sam, who also lives in the home). All of the family members at first react with relative indifference to Teddy and Ruth, but their attitudes change as Ruth’s apparent lack of interest in them piques their interest in her.
But even before the arrival of the married couple, the family dynamics (as between Max and Lenny and Max and Sam, at least) have been revealed to be anything but warm and loving. In the opening scene, Lenny ignores his father’s questions and idle comments and then explodes at the older man with venom.
And Max hardly shows any respect, let alone affection for Sam, his brother, who seeks acknowledgement that he is the best chauffeur on the line at his place of work. Joey, who is simple-minded, appears later in the first act, and is less maligned by the others, with Max even showing him some positive recognition for his efforts as a fledgling boxer.
Teddy and Ruth arrive late one night after the others are asleep. They don’t appear to be a particularly happy couple. Teddy urges Ruth to go to bed. She instead wants to get some air, after first seeming indifferent to his entreaties. He speaks dispassionately about the home and his father and brothers. In short, there is little sign of any affection amongst and between any of these six characters.
So, what’s it all about? After setting the stage in the first act, with the overly aggressive and seemingly self-confident Lenny showing a physical interest in Ruth and with Max feigning delight with her charm and grace, the plot crosses into the enigmatic, if not the absurd, in the second act, which is most probably what Pinter intended.
In any event, it is certainly Ms. Stevens’ intended projection of the play, and her direction (and the performances by her cast members) delivers the enigmatic and absurdist plot lines perfectly. Her production is also immensely enhanced by the excellent set and lighting (designed by Ron Madonia and Paul Kreutz) and the costumes (designed by Gail Russell). In short, this is nothing less than a superb production of a great play that left us contemplating messages and meanings long after the final dramatic scene.
The cast is led by Julian Lopez-Morillas as the grouchy, grumbling, perhaps slightly demented father, Max. He commands the stage in every scene in which he appears. But so does Ryan Snyder, as Lenny. At times calling to mind the Malcolm McDowell character in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” Mr. Snyder’s Lenny speaks of murder with the amoral attitude of a true psychopath. (Or is his bravado only a mask for deep-seated pain?)
The real star of the show, however, may be Melinda Parrett as the cool Ruth. She has fewer lines than most of the other actors, but her character controls most of the action, and her performance definitively reflects how her character would have been able to do so. Her Ruth isn’t intimidated by any of the men in this odd set of in-laws. Perhaps she is even humored by them.
Also solid in their portrayals are Joe Higgins as Sam, Christopher Vettel as Teddy, and Brian Harrower as Joey. Together they add to the play’s underlying theme and presumed message. And what is that message? In a Q & A with the cast and Ms. Stevens after the performance we attended last weekend, Mr. Vettel noted that the story suggests the complexity of human relationships, with ambiguity the norm and specificity of feelings or motivations for actions so hard to identify.
And Ms. Stevens may have identified Pinter’s intent in remarking that “the veneer of civilization is very, very thin.” It’s a disturbing thought, one that this production of his play delivers fully.