The Homecoming presents a familial battleground in which conversation is a slew of verbal attacks and counter attacks. The family members, all male, are bound in toleration of one another. They sit apart like persons made of human debris. Conversations consist of innuendo, non sequiturs and absurd turns, but it does fill space and time, both of which wrap around these suspended lives. No one expects a response; they ignore the words of others in order to control the speakers and then plan tactics as they respond. The air is tense with the feeling of lies being spun.
With Pinter, the playwright, people speak and mean something else, and use words, whatever their meaning, as weapons. Much is suggested and over time we wonder, for instance, who the whores in the life of this family are and who the fathers are. We wonder who is what they seem. It is a play written, and here immaculately directed by Jennifer Tarver, for undercurrents of menace and overt aggression. It is a play about survival. I once had a college student repeatedly call the play stupid until, when asked why, he blurted out, almost in tears, “It is just like my own family.” On the other hand, I have viewed Peter Hall’s production several dozen times and to me the play is like existential music.
Brian Dennehy plays Max with commanding presence, at least when seated, less so when standing and leaning on his cane. In either position, nonetheless, Max the father has a need for nastiness. His words reveal him, past and present, as a boorish bully, while his rare expression of humanity is merely the manifestation of a sentimental but manipulative heart. With the arrival of Ruth, he seems lighter and younger and more fluid of speech. Stephen Ouimette plays his brother Sam, with many subtle touches, as a man of gentle and delicate manners and inherent dignity. Sam, however, seems battered by his brutish family and their rituals of hostility.
The three sons include Aaron Krohn’s Lenny, whom Krohn aces as a squeezed personality of slime in a snit. He is quick to react, tightly wound up and volatile, and acts as if he is enduring the others. He likes to intrude whenever he can in a menacing way. Joey, ably played by Ian Lake, is slow, absent minded, vain in his illusions of himself as a boxer, and an unquestionably brain-pummeled lad. The returning son, Teddy is played by Mike Shara with a nerdy, toothy grin and a distant manner. He is pixie-ish in dark rimmed glasses and, as an academic, mentally elsewhere. His pontifications have a clueless tone.
With Cara Ricketts as Teddy’s wife Ruth we have the pivotal catalyst in the play’s narrative. Like the others, she too seems to have created an inner space immune to intrusion. Her manner is initially rigid and who knows what she thinks of her male company? She picks up on each game with ease after cool consideration, lets the potential opposition reveal itself, and cooly decides her course. Her manipulative spreading of her legs is aggressively luring, for she will now take control and the family will now serve her. In the end she wins and Max sobs “I am not an old man,” for now it is Ruth who decides what lie is a fact, the latest truth.
The Homecoming is a modern masterpiece and the actors here offer top notch creations in the Pinter idiom. You might be surprised after reading this account that the play is uniquely hilarious, but so it is –we are seduced into laughing at the mundane brutalities that people can be. Without exception the actors blend and negotiate menace and humour with meticulous ease and, as a result, we feel that our world has been turned inside out.