Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming is the kind of play for which you would do well to prepare yourself. This is no fluff ball diversion for the brain-dead like David Mamet’s November, nor a multi-generational tragicomedy with a pill-popping Mama stumbling down the staircase like playwright Tracy Letts’ August: Osage Country. You shouldn’t just ride in from out of town on the Long Island Railroad or Metro North thinking you are going have an evening of light entertainment on Broadway that will make for charming, intelligent, cocktail party-speak in the “burbs.” No, not with this play. Know what you are getting yourself into: The Homecoming is a lethal, haunting drama about familial one-upmanship, seduction, lust and betrayal.
“Let me outta here!”
That’s what Rose, played by long-legged Eve Best, should be screaming at the top of her lungs in this revival of Pinter’s 1965 play at The Cort Theater. Rose is the wife of one of three grown brothers played by James Frain, Raul Esparza, and Gareth Saxe. As the play begins, she’s just being introduced for the first time, after eight years of marriage, to her in-laws—a creepy bunch that would make the hairs on the back of the neck of any woman stand up. The father, played by Ian McShane, should have put at least two of his miserable whelps in a burlap bag, dropped them into the nearest river, and then, if there were any justice in this life at all, fallen in after them.
Oh, yes, there were some funny lines and tart exchanges in The Homecoming, but it didn’t take long for the laughter in the audience to turn nervous as the characters began to maneuver for position and, like jackals, started circling the lone woman on stage.
And you thought your family should be straightjacketed!
The Homecoming won a Tony Award, the Whitbread Anglo-American Theater Award, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. Harold Pinter also won the Noble Prize in Literature in 2005, the same year he announced he was finished as a playwright. “I’ve written 29 plays. Isn’t that enough?” [If you say so, Harold.]
Oh, and one more thing that made this Broadway experience VERY different:
Not only did I get to see a great, if nightmare-provoking, play, I also got to see an actor on stage stop mid-sentence when the house lights unexpectedly went up during the first act.
Don’t you hate it when someone is gasping and struggling to breathe in the audience and you’re trying to concentrate on the play? Heads swiveled, but not with the kind of neck craning that would normally have included angry “shushes,” escalating to vehement “SHUT UPs!” because someone was unwrapping a candy or whispering to a neighbor. No, this time it was the kind of turning around that might have been accompanied by someone screaming: Is there a doctor in the house! The house lights came up, actor Raul Esparza, playing Lenny, actually interrupted his monologue, got up from the sofa on stage, walked toward the audience and asked: “Is everything okay out there?”
Well, actually, no, at least not for somebody. But this being New York City, in a matter of moments, “somebody” was tout de suite expedited to the egress and dispatched into the night. Ta ta!
I mean, how annoying.
There were sounds of an ambulance in the distance, but, again, this being New York City, who knows if it was headed our way.
And then I got to see an actor get back in character.
The lights began to fade to off, the audience applauded, Mr. Esparza returned to the sofa, collected himself for about 30 seconds as the audience sat politely and expectantly, and then he slipped seamlessly back into the character of Lenny. It was an amazing transformation to watch.
Yes, the show must go on!
The play resumed where it left off—tossing the audience about emotionally as we tried to figure out just where this play was going, and suspecting it was headed some place very bad for Ruth.
Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): I’ll be at The O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) Conference in New York City on February 11-13. Make sure you say “Hi!” if you see me. [Later: The O’Reilly Conference gets an “A” from me thus far. I’ll be back next week with info on pre-selling your book and getting the money upfront while the book may be a just a figment of your imagination.] Here I am today, Tuesday, with Tim O’Reilly at the TOC Conference.