In Broadway's most recent revival of the inscrutable playwright's, "The Homecoming," directed by Daniel Sullivan, the overwhelming emotion it elicits from the audience is profoundly disturbing. As these unlikable, yet riveting characters unfold before us, we realize more than ever, what real lack of communication in a family can do to its members, and to an audience holding its breath waiting for redemption that never comes.
This emotionally crippled family of men suffers profusely from the lack of women in its midst. The home that's not a home reeks with neglect, and the atmosphere is toxic. Max, the brooding demonic father, keeps his sons at bay with his ever-present walking stick, and his demeaning barbs aimed to kill any remaining spirit they might possess. Lenny, the older son and local pimp, seems immune to his father's jabs, using sarcasm as his major weapon. Younger Joey, a boxer-in-training, relies on brute strength, but is no match for the verbal javelins thrown his way. Uncle Sam (Max's brother) takes on the only maternal role acceptable in this house, but his attempts to cook and clean for this unruly clan earn scorn, not gratitude.
And that leaves Teddy, the successful professor, who escaped years earlier to find his fortune in America, and now returns to his British roots to offer up his lovely wife, Ruth, to the lascivious men he calls family. It's all they can do to contain themselves as this sensuous woman enters their domain spreading her femininity as effortlessly as she crosses her legs. With this long-legged gesture, reminiscent of Sharon Stone's infamous moment in the film "Basic Instincts," Ruth shifts her weight around in more ways than one. Reducing her powerless husband to emasculated voyeur, she easily blends right into the debauchery of her surroundings. As Max and Lenny haggle over pricing and pimping, Ruth becomes more serene.
The irony of the title of the play does not escape us; a loveless home is just a broken-down flat filled with desperate people with no place to go. To say that Pinter is enigmatic is too simplistic to explain the vileness we see exhibited in this play. Is this Pinter's way of suggesting that men are mere brutes and all women are ultimately whores? Is Pinter suggesting that men, if left to their own devices, eat their own young, and are incapable of nurturing?
These questions about men behaving badly, however, are just as unanswerable as the "why" variety that also perplex the mind. Why does Ruth agree to stay with these awful men when Teddy returns to America? Why does he have no objections? Why is Ruth an unloving and uncaring mother? Why is Teddy's family so brutal in the first place?
Pinter gives us no "moment before," no background, no clues. He has abruptly dropped us into the middle of a slice of life, and just as abruptly, dismissed us with the final curtain. We can make inferences, surmise possibilities, but in the end, we are left in the dark without any information and no place to take our thoughts.
We have, however, one particular place to go; to see incredible performances particularly by Eve Best as a seething Ruth, and the devil incarnate, Ian McShane, as Max. Raul Esparza follows his Tony-nominated performance in "Company" with cigar-smoking, scheming low-life Lenny. Gareth Saxe, Michael McKean and James Frain complete this remarkable cast that leaves us waiting to exhale as we exit the theater.
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
"First of all, it really is that good. You would expect it to have shrunk over the years, the way buildings that loomed large in your childhood seem smaller when you revisit them. But as the first-rate revival ... makes electrifyingly clear, ï¿½The Homecomingï¿½ is every bit as big as its reputation."
New York Times
"Forty years after its original Tony-winning run, "The Homecoming" by Harold Pinter is no longer so shocking. But its provocative nastiness and pitch-black humor remain intact in the lucid production." & "Daniel Sullivan's astute direction captures the distinct rhythms of Pint-er's dialogue, as the production casts a strange spell that grips you tight."
New York Daily News
"It's a fascinating and entertaining piece, but the play, 40 years on, has not worn as well as I would have expected. Once Pinter was generally regarded as a possible successor to Samuel Beckett in nihilistic existentialism. Now he seems a markedly lesser talent. Yet it's difficult to imagine an all-over better cast or a more persuasive reading; led by McShane's ugly and embittered patriarch, Esparza's smoothly confident Lenny, Frain's shiftily ambivalent Teddy and the wonderful Best, whose smugly conspiratorial smile, caps the play's ending."
New York Post
"For all of its brooding effectiveness, "The Homecoming" is not an easy work to digest and tends to leave a sour taste." & "The ability to enjoy Pinter's subtle plays is strictly an acquired taste -- not everyone has it -- but this ably staged production of "The Homecoming" offers aficionados a solid rendition of one of his best-known works."
"The last 42 years have not necessarily been kind to "The Homecoming." As the play's once unclassifiable sexual politics (misogynist? feminist? both?) have lost much of their punch..., Daniel Sullivan (is) a director capable of honoring the play's still potent confrontations while compensating for the inevitable dip in unpredictability. This shabby all-male North London home may reek of sweat and cigar smoke, but Mr. Sullivan's forceful mounting, led by Ian McShane and Eve Best as the two primary combatants, breathes vivifying air into several of the play's mustier corners."
New York Sun
""The Homecoming," has been lovingly revived on Broadway with good direction, a fine cast and convincing production design. Though every prospect pleases, only the play is vile." & "Harold Pinter, staggering back and forth between naturalism and absurdism, never settles down in either. Made homeless by ambiguity, he does his damnedest to drag us into the cold with him. Follow at your own risk."
"In "The Homecoming," his enigmatic 1965 masterwork about power and desire, Pinter aimed to leave his audience unsure, unsettled, stimulated and appalled. That result is undimmed in Daniel Sullivan's diamond-edged Broadway revival. The director's lucid, unblinking work is matched by a riveting ensemble, their vileness inching under the skin in ways as psychologically disturbing as they are theatrically bracing."