It is somewhat daunting to think about, let alone write about, an author who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature (2005) and who has ascended to such heights as to have been thought to have created an entire style of playwriting, dubbed “Pinteresque” (which has become so ubiquitous that my spell check knew the word).
The Pinteresque style of playwriting often, for me, at least, results in one or more puzzles to be sorted through in order to understand, not only what I’m seeing as an audience member but also coming to a critical understanding of the play’s subtext.
Case in point: The Homecoming, in residence through March 27 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. On the surface, it’s a nasty tale of a patriarch (Max, played by Frank Corrado), his barely tolerated brother (Sam, played by James Newcomb), and his three sons, Lenny (Richard Baird), Joey (Justin Gordon), and Teddy (Bruce Turk). All but Teddy have been living in a woman-less house, made so by the death of Jessie, the matriarch. They consistently disagree about who should do the tasks that often fall to women. The tension among them just aches for a catharsis, and The Homecoming provides it, brilliantly but subtlety.
It is Teddy who comes home from America for a visit, bringing along his wife, Ruth (Melanie Lora). Apparently, Teddy married Ruth prior to leaving for an academic position in the US, though seemingly no one in the household knew anything about her. Except, that probably isn’t true: Lenny seems to have more information about her than do the others.
And Ruth knows about them, probably a lot, as she proceeds to insert herself into the household dynamic as the woman all the men have needed in one way or another. Doing so also has serious consequences for the survival of the existing dynamic. Ruth also knows what she’s done and what she’s going to leave behind to get what she wants.
North Coast Rep has specialized in Pinter over the years, and artistic director David Ellenstein is something of a Pinter specialist. It shows. He’s particularly good in directing how the power shifts over the course of the play. Under his leadership, the work is Pinteresque without having to point out that it is. There are no overly long pauses to let the audience know, “We’re doing Pinter here.” There’s just solid acting from what’s clearly been a hand-picked cast.
Mr. Ellenstein apparently lucked into casting Ms. Lora, though, as she had recently relocated to the area from Los Angeles. Hers is quite the debut San Diego theatre performance. You don’t see her scheming until she shows you that the scheming has been there all along. She’s well partnered with Mr. Turk’s Teddy, who’s the naïve one and doesn’t see what’s coming. Richard Baird’s Lenny does see it but, seemingly for his own reasons, calls Ruth out for what she is and then lets it go when no one takes the bait. Mr. Gordon’s Joey is a knucklehead, Mr. Newcomb’s Sam is the tragic figure, the man who took on the woman’s emotional role until Ruth arrived. Mr. Corrado’s Max is stolid and old. He’s trying to hold everything together and basically doesn’t know what hit him.
Audiences have to work at appreciating The Homecoming. Just seeing it isn’t enough, thinking about it, talking about it, all help but may not actually make the experience clear. It’s probably a good idea that a musical preceded it and that a comedy revue follows it in the schedule. Mr. Ellenstein’s program essay dresses up the choice as “keeping with our commitment…to present great theatre from all genres,” and he’s called the experience of directing this cast “a joy.” He’s right.
He’s also got a design crew – Marty Burnett (Resident Scenic Designer), Matthew Novotny (Lighting), Elisa Benzoni (Costumes), Aaron Rumley (Sound) Philip Korth (Props), and Victoria Hanlin (Dialect Coach) – who know how to work with what they have.
There’s still time to see and savor The Homecoming. Go. Take along someone who’ll want to talk about it afterward. Puzzle it through. See what happens.
Performs Wednesday at 2 and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm, and Sunday at 2 and 7pm. Times vary during the run. Check that the performance you wish to attend is scheduled before driving to the theater. North Coast Rep is located in the rear of a shopping center, and there is ample free parking for patrons.