Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Homecoming

The HSU production of The Homecoming is notable for the clarity of the acting. Every word is clear, and in this play (as in Pinter generally) every word matters. That's despite the English accents, which on the whole are good, or good enough.

The story is deceptively simple: thirty-something Teddy, now a philosophy professor at an American college, returns to his working class London family home with his early-30s wife, Ruth, where she meets his father, Max, and his brothers, Lenny and Joey, and his uncle, Sam. And let the subtext begin, and the darkness be unleashed.

Anthony De Page as Sam and Brandon McDaniel as Joey seem to have an attitude in mind, and play it fully. So in a way does Emily Ruebl as Ruth, though the text makes her character more mysterious. Colin Trevino-Odell is impressively subtle as Teddy. Arnold Waddell plays Max the straightest of all, letting his contradictions emerge from what he says and does. Jabari Morgan plays the key character of Lenny with a disarming combination of languid charm and menace. He also has the best voice and the best accent--it sounded to me a lot like Ian Holm in the original production, as preserved in the American Film Theatre DVD.

The actors also played it straight in that production, directed by Peter Hall, that began in London and conquered Broadway, earning multiple Tony Awards. Personally I'd like to see it played more sharply, with characters getting in each other's faces. Seeing this play for the first time since college, I noted the importance of Max, which I felt when reading the play. His speeches are full of such blatant contradictions and outrageous bullshit, as when he describes a dress he would buy for his wife with language lifted from fashion advertising that no actual person would use. I'd love to see Patrick Stewart play that role.

The Studio Theatre does offer an intimacy that other HSU venues don't, as does the three-quarter round staging. Unfortunately I sat in the worst spot, especially to see much of Jabari Morgan. I did hear him, though, and that was reason enough to attend this play. I admired his playing of Othello a few years ago--it's still the best single performance I've seen hereabouts in a Shakespeare play. Here he was playing a brother and son in a white family, and I wondered how the production would handle this. They essentially ignored the racial difference completely, and played it in "color blind casting" mode. And it worked--mostly because Jabari Morgan made it work. Maybe it was the accents that made everyone equally "foreign" to our ears, or maybe it was simply that he created a character that simply belonged within the world of the play.

With an assured pace on opening night (along with a few more Pinter pauses that director Heckel found), and with its transparency and clarity, this production fairly represents Pinter's play, and therefore is worth seeing. As for what it all means, let the debates begin (I discuss some elements of interpretation here and generally in other posts at HSU Stage & Screen.

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