Sunday, January 20, 2008

Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming"

Directed by Daniel Sullivan

Max: Ian McShane
Lenny: Raul Esparza
Sam: Michael McKean
Joey: Gareth Saxe
Teddy: James Frain
Ruth: Eve Best

Watched "The Homecoming" yesterday at the Cort Theater, one of the older theaters in Broadway, built with three levels, orchestra, mezzanine and balcony. The play was contained ferocity, the walls of the old house always about to fall. Its minimalism made "August: Osage County" look like a fat old tart. Its mystery made "Rock and Roll" sound like a Presidential candidate. A sign of my terrible memory: I wrote on "The Homecoming" in an undergraduate essay, but only remembered doing so in the middle of the play when Ruth spoke about moving her stocking when she moved her leg. What is it about a stockinged leg that jogged my memory? The veil and the flesh? The sexy gesture? John Lahr has more coherent thoughts in his article on this 40th anniversary production of the play.

from John Lahr's article "Demolition Man" in "The New Yorker":

For “The Homecoming,” he began with a sentence, the play’s opening words: “What have you done with the scissors?” “I didn’t know who was saying it,” he said. “I didn’t know who he was talking to. Now, the fellow he was talking to—if he had said, ‘Oh, I’ve got them right here, Dad,’ there would have been no play. But instead he says, ‘Why don’t you shut up, you daft prat?’ Once that’s said, there’s a spring of drama, which develops and follows its own course. I had no idea what the course was going to be. I hadn’t planned anything. In the back of my mind, I think I knew there was another brother going to come back. I think I saw them quite early in a big house, with the doors being taken down, leading to a stairway. I saw them moving in that space.”


No other British playwright since Noël Coward has so dominated and defined the theatrical landscape of his time. Even Coward, who hated the New Wave that put him out of fashion, considered Pinter an exception. “Your writing absolutely fascinates me,” he wrote to Pinter in 1965 after seeing his third full-length play, “The Homecoming.” “You cheerfully break every rule of the theatre that I was brought up to believe in, except the cardinal one of never boring for a split-second. I love your choice of words, your resolute refusal to explain anything and the arrogant, but triumphant demands you make on the audience’s imagination. I can well see why some clots hate it, but I belong to the opposite camp—if you will forgive the expression.”


Pinter had taken the narration out of theatre: “The Homecoming” offered no explanations, no theory, no truths, no through line, no certainties of any kind. I was drawn to the charisma of the work in the same way that Pinter—I later learned—had been compelled by Shakespeare. “You are called upon to grapple with a perspective in which the horizon alternately collapses and re-forms behind you, in which the mind is subject to an intense diversity of atmospheric,” he wrote in “A Note on Shakespeare,” in 1950, six years before he started to do a similar thing with his own plays.

I am teaching "King Lear" now. It's good advice to look at its "intense diversity of atmospheric" instead of reducing it to a morality play.

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