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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Cort Theatre

By Mervyn Rothstein

  Ian McShane/Ph:Sara Krulwich

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming has come back to Broadway - and it has brought with it most of its old punch.

When the play first opened on Broadway, in January 1967, reviews were mixed. But the public disagreed, and word of mouth propelled it to a nearly 10-month run. It won Tony Awards for Best Play and for Peter Hall's direction. It's 40 years later now, though, and you would think that what was shocking and provocative then - even in the sexual and social revolution of the sixties- would approach the commonplace in this violent and slaughter-filled decade. Haven't we all become largely inured to malevolence?

That might be your first thought. But the shock, rather than having dissipated, instead belatedly takes you by surprise. You may shrug off the play at first, think that this is all old hat. But, if you're like me, you'll find that the play lingers, grows, steals up from behind and grabs your mind.

The Homecoming is filled with menace, passion, distrust, betrayal, more betrayal, unexpected sexuality, violence - suggested and real - and an emphasis on power and the never-ending struggle for it. Does anyone, in the play or in life, ever really say what they mean, or feel? Or is it all a means to an end - power - is it all disguise, a mask, a way of keeping your distance, of hiding who you really are? Does anyone ever really connect with anyone else?

It's all there on the stage of the Cort. And I found myself thinking about it, and reflecting about what we all are, and how we all truly live, for days after I left the theater. Yes, The Homecoming, with its sex and lies in the era before videotape, is still effective - sneakily effective - after all these years.

The new production, at the Cort Theater, stars Ian McShane, Raul Esparza and Eve Best, and is directed by Daniel Sullivan. In the play, Teddy (James Frain), a professor of philosophy at an American university who is long estranged from his family, comes home to the North London house of his childhood to visit his working-class family: his father, Max (McShane), a retired butcher his two brothers, Joey (Gareth Saxe), a boxer, and Lenny (Esparza), a pimp and his uncle (Michael McKean), a chauffeur. He brings along his wife, Ruth (Best) - a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in sexual enticement - whom his family has never met.

Sullivan - a five-time Tony nominee, and a winner for Proof in 2001 - often stresses the play's absurd character, the side that displays Pinter's affinity with Samuel Beckett, who was his friend and inspiration. Many lines that might at first glance evoke shock instead induce laughter. Often, the production seems funny - but it's black humor, black comedy. That has also always been there - it's just that the balance has shifted. Yet even as it has shifted, and even as the laughter arises, the sense of unease accompanies it. And Sullivan has brought his actors together to give his audience more than a dollop of disquiet.

McShane, who was the essence of evil as Al Swearengen in the HBO series Deadwood, continues to display his dominance of that franchise. When he runs his hand through his hair in frustration, or sits silently listening to his sons, his face an image of disdain, Max's severe unpleasantness is up front and personal. And when he talks, you sometimes just want to flee his presence, get as far away from him as possible.

Best, superb last season in A Moon for the Misbegotten as a woman uncomfortable with her body, achieves a remarkable total turnaround as a mother/whore permanently radiating a calculated sexuality that she totally controls. She makes believable a behavior that is startling and largely inexplicable.

Esparza provides one slight glitch. H


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