The family portrait (from left: Kenneth Welsh as Sam, A.C.T. core acting company member Anthony Fusco as Teddy, A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis as Max, Adam O’Byrne as Joey, A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen as Ruth, and Andrew Polk as Lenny). Photo by Kevin Berne.

HOMECOMING by Harold Pinter, directed by Carey Perloff. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108. 415.749.2228 or www.act-sf.org


A.C.T. and artistic director Carey Perloff’s love affair with Harold Pinter and his plays continue with this, a brilliant production of Homecoming. Daniel Ostling has created a perfect claustrophobic set depicting a working class East London home that traps six family members (no last names) jockeying for a control of the household and the love of sexually provocative Ruth (René Augesen).

Pinter was a member of the “look back in anger” group that defined a major shift in playwriting during the 60s for the disenchanted following the devastation of World War II. Even though he breaks playwriting rules, he in actuality follows an Aristotelian approach to construction maintaining the precepts of time, place and action. Where he deviates from the rules of a “beginning, middle and an end” is that his story lines never really end. So it is with Homecoming.

However, within this construct Pinter populates the stage with dark, angry, repugnant characters that battle for physical and psychological share of the turf. The decaying East London structure is home to father/despot Max, his sons Lenny a pimp, Joey a would be boxer and docile brother Sam a limousine driver. A woman has never been inside this inner sanctum since mother Jessie died.

Within the first scene, we meet all the inhabitants and given a harsh dose of their animosities made extremely frightening with Pinter’s guillotine dialog interspersed with his infamous use of pauses. Late at night eldest brother Teddy, bags in tow, arrives with his wife Ruth. He left home six years ago, settled in America and married Ruth who may or may not have past as a prostitute. They have three sons. He is a professor of philosophy and is bringing Ruth to London for a “homecoming.” Ruth’s beauty and demeanor have a devastating sexual impact on Lenny, Max and Joey. Ruth neither solicits nor rejects the sexual advances but just allows fate to take its course leading to a cataclysmic ambiguous decision to stay while Teddy returns to America. Pinter creates his masterpiece on this theatrical canvas.

Every member of the cast brings his masterful layers of character development forth. Jack Willis is scary as patriarch Max, a meat butcher who wields his tongue with cutting ferocity and pitiful when begging a kiss from Ruth. Andrew Polk as Lenny captures the cadence of Pinter’s lines and smoothly offers Ruth “a paying job” among his stable of girls. Adam O’Byrne as youngest son Joey painfully expresses his tender desires for Ruth. Anthony Fusco gives an exceptional performance as Teddy whose role is essentially a sounding board.

Then there is René Augesen, as Ruth is the catalyst of the exploding turmoil, giving a scintillating, understated performance, stealing the show with her expressive body movement while having the fewest lines in the script. Her negotiations with Lenny for a place of her own where she will earn her keep, is both matter of fact and unyielding. She exudes the ambiguity that Pinter creates never giving a definitive ending to his plays.

With all the accolades heaped on Pinter’s work and this production, Homecoming is a very, very dark and dreary play. Pinter aficionados will love it but many would prefer an Arnold Wesker kitchen sink drama.

Kedar K. Adour,

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com