|Julian Lopez-Morillas, Brian Harrower, Melinda Parrett and Ryan Snyder
perform in "The Homecoming," running through May 31 at Capital Stage. Courtesy photo
Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming,” now considered by many to be his masterpiece, is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. It cemented the playwright’s reputation as “Britain’s foremost living dramatist.”
Though the play is seldom performed these days, Capital Stage is presenting a polished production directed by Janis Stevens, in which strong performances are given by a wonderful ensemble of six performers, four of whom are new to Capital Stage.
Is this a dark comedy with dramatic elements, or a dark drama with comedic elements? Yes. There is heavy drama in this story of a dysfunctional blue-collar family living in a working-class area of North London, but there are also lots of funny moments among the five men of the family and the newly introduced sister-in-law.
The family dysfunction is established early with the attempted conversation of the grizzled family patriarch, Max (Julian López-Morillas), with his suave, immaculately dressed son Lenny (Ryan Snyder), who steadfastly ignores him.
In turn, we meet the other men in the family — Sam (Joe Higgins), Max’s brother, a somewhat disheveled limousine driver, and Joey (Brian Harrower), a demolition man by day and would-be boxer at night. He’s the butt of his father’s cruel jabs, who tells him that he’d be a pro if he ever learned “how to defend and how to attack.”
We learn that Max’s wife died several years before, so the house has been without a female presence for a long time. It has become a man cave where each man lives in his own world and barely speaks to the others, though Max seems to do the cooking, to lots of criticism (“Why don’t you buy a dog? You’re a dog cook.”).
These four actors inhabit their vastly diverse characters flawlessly. López-Morillas is riveting as the bellicose Max, who can be sentimental when the mood strikes him, but who mostly spends his time yelling at his sons or complaining about his life.
Higgins gives Sam a somewhat androgynous persona, very proud of his popularity as a limousine driver, but rumpled in appearance and very definitely subservient to Max.
As for Lenny, Snyder is perfection. He is such a cool customer, but with such an underlying hint of something sleazy behind that polished veneer that we aren’t surprised to discover, in Act 2, that he is a pimp.
Harrower’s Joey is as different from brother Lenny as you can get. His body language conveys his insecurity, how he knows he’s the runt of the litter and only hopes that his dreams of becoming a champion prize fighter will change his life.
Into this mix come Teddy (Christopher Vettel) and his wife Ruth (Melinda Parrett), who have been living in the United States for the past six years and have dropped by, unannounced, en route home from Venice so that Teddy can introduce Ruth to his family.
Teddy is a professor of philosophy at a university and smugly considers himself quite a cut above his low-class family. Based on the awkwardness of their interactions, one wonders why he bothered coming home at all.
There is something “off” with Teddy and Ruth from the beginning. Their relationship seems strained. There are also doubts about the truth of their life in the United States. Presumably, they have had three children over the past six years and later Teddy talks about how he wishes he was home because the kids would be playing in the pool by now. Given what would have to be their ages if they had been born within the last six years, that seems hardly plausible. It adds another layer to the question of the relationship between Teddy and Ruth, alluded to later.
Vettel looks like he just walked out of a classroom, so accurate is his portrayal of the effete college professor.
Nobody does cold, aloof women as well as Parrett, and in Ruth, she has a gold mine to work with. Though she and Lenny see each other from across the room, it is obviously lust at first sight, and their banter throughout the play give us some of the funniest lines.
In short order, the life the men have been living is disrupted by the sexual tension created by the presence of a woman in the house and each of them lusts after her in different ways and for different reasons. Ruth is objectified, but turns that around and takes power from the feelings the men have for her, which also gives her the power to stand up to Teddy, when he insists that they return to the States immediately. Parrett is masterful when she first begins to bark orders at the men.
Ultimately, the men invite her to remain with them, while Teddy goes home, so she can be Max’s wife substitute, a mother-substitute for the sons, and perhaps earn her living working as a prostitute for Lenny.
As Teddy picks up his suitcase while Ruth settles into Max’s overstuffed chair with a contented sigh, it seems that the “homecoming,” after all, is Ruth’s.