For all but the most sophisticated theatre aficionados, Harold Pinter's work can difficult. Born in the desolate nihilism of post-WWII, post-Holocaust Europe, the Nobel Laureate's message lies in the devastating silence between his words, where subconscious forces pull the strings of desperate characters whose irrational behavior we would like to think has no resemblance to our own.
Like his contemporary, Albee, or their younger counterpart, McDonaugh, Pinter uses his storylines for shock and awe, hoping to get underneath our considerable psychological armor and force us to admit that somewhere, deep down, our instinctive impulses are very much akin to what we are seeing on stage.
The most effective means of elucidating this post-modern approach is to deconstruct the action, characters, and language to create a surrealistic atmosphere in which the audience's focus is transmuted from the plot on stage to their internal dialogue about it, precisely what is enacted in director Daniel Sullivan's current production, now running at the Cort Theatre in New York City.
Eve Best, who plays Ruth, the only woman in the story, says very little for most of the evening, yet she is the magnet to whom the audience and all the male characters are drawn, her voguing worthy of Cleopatra. She is the seductive anima to an array of self-centered masculine animus: her husband Teddy's (James Frain) cold intellect and her in-law's untempered libidinous instincts.
Father-in-law Max (Ian McShane), and brothers-in-law Joey (Gareth Saxe) and Lenny (Raúl Esparza) salivate over Ruth as if Teddy had delivered her for their bidding. Ruth shockingly complies with their desires. What is going on here? It is the mind itself stripped of superego and conscience.
McShane digs deep for a series of riveting monologues to which we are drawn despite his vulgar demeanor. Saxe draws our sympathy for elucidating Joey's mental impairment despite his repulsive and transparent instinctive behaviors. Exparza attracts our interest with his consumate restraint in portraying Lenny's gamesmanship.
Michael McKean draws a sympathetic portrait of Sam, Max's brother and uncle to the boys, the one enduring sympathetic character in bunch, the only one who works in a service industry. In the end, his heart reveals the price of living amongst the heathen.
The Homecoming runs through April 13th at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, New York. 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250.