review: Pinter’s “The Homecoming” at San Francisco’s A.C.T. is still pathologically disturbing after 47 years, runs through March 27, 2011
Written in 1964, Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming was revolutionary in its exploration of the dark and dysfunctional side of family and marriage. The original Broadway production won the 1967 Tony Award for Best Play and its 40th anniversary Broadway production at the Cort Theatre was nominated for a 2008 Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Play.” Now at San Francisco’s A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre), The Homecoming is a must-see for its superb acting, anchored by A.C.T. core actors René Augesen as Ruth and Jack Willis as Max the family patriarch. And while it’s no longer the cutting- edge provocateur it once was, it is one of the most profoundly disturbing and exceptional portraits of a family to be found. That’s because in the play’s near half decade of existence, our society has evolved to the point where we can recognize bits of ourselves in these wounded and intriguing characters and admit they embody a primal darkness that lies in all of us. We’ve almost caught up with Pinter.
The Homecoming is the story of a long absent son, Teddy (Anthony Fusco) who shows up in the middle of the night at his family home in North London with his wife, Ruth (René Augesen). Teddy, a philosophy professor in the Midwest, seems to have little in common with the working-class relatives he left behind: Max, his father, (a butcher)(Jack Willis) and his younger brother Sam (a driver)(Kenneth Walsh) and Max’s two grown sons who still live at home, Lenny (pimp)(Andrew Polk) and Joey, the youngest (a boxer)(Adam O’Byrne). They are all what a therapist might call trigger happy–constantly warring, trying to one up each other as they act out an ingrained pattern of lobbing hurtful responses back and forth. Anything and everything is up for grabs—they fight over a cheese roll as passionately as they discuss philosophy, constantly vying for power. As soon as Ruth enters the picture, they all compete for her attention.
By the second act, Ruth, who was initially quiet, grows misogynistically pathological and cranks her own game into high gear, ultimately calling the shots in the family. Augesen laces every word and gesture with ambiguity, hauntingly alluding to Ruth sexual past. It’s a curious experience to watch a family implode before your eyes and at the same time to be wondering what it would be like to be any of them, as repulsive as each of them are.
Acclaimed theatrical designer Daniel Ostling’s stage set, with its inward tilted walls, vertigo-inducing wooden staircase and stark lighting enhances the feeling of suffocating oppression within the family. Thick clouds of fragrant cigar smoke and evocative jazz frame many of the conversations while Alex Jeager’s costumes for Ruth, particularly a form-fitting red silk dress, aid her in stealing power from right under the noses of these men.
Details: The Homecoming plays at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, through March 27, 2011. Tickets ($10-$85) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at A.C.T. online box office.