ACT Production of Pinter's 'Homecoming' Exudes Timeless Allure

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In their dim and dusty family home in north London, four men live a life of bile and bickering. Enter stage right: an estranged son and his blonde bombshell of a wife. And let the absurdist power play begin. This is Harold Pinter's dark and provocative 1965 play, "The Homecoming." American Conservatory Theater's production of this classic work, directed by Carey Perloff, is a spellbinding work of spleen and seduction.

"The Homecoming" is a play that grapples with mysteries of human behavior. Over and over, questions about a character's action or dialogue, his intention or desire, rack the viewer's brain. But trying to draw conclusions in the midst of Pinter's poetic and often baffling dialogue becomes a hopeless task, and there is nothing left to do but sit and hope to catch every hint of meaning.

Therein lies this play's spell: It demands the utmost attention to notice every look, every breath, and to the way one player hands a cup of coffee to another. A leg crosses and uncrosses, men fiddle and toy with cigars. Each detail packs worlds of significance while appearing to mean nothing.

For all the mystery of the play's action, Pinter's dialogue is often uncomfortably frank. When a character hates another, he says so, and usually with great rhetorical flourish. In some moments it seems every character is speaking their own subtext out loud. There could have been a whole other play, comprised of normal conversations on civilized subjects, but Pinter threw it out in favor of his scribbled marginalia on what his characters were actually thinking, feeling and doing.

But enough about the text itself - there's much more to be said about ACT's production than the fact that they've chosen to stage a groundbreaking play.

Daniel Ostling's scene design is a claustrophobic affair. Sloping walls collapse into the characters, who are never far from collapsing in on themselves. An enormous staircase stretches upward, as if to infinity, expressing the impossibility of escape from the family torture within the scene.

Rene Augesen as Ruth - the one and only female - captivates with her every move, even as her character ensorcels the men about her. With very little language to work with, Augesen packs a megaton of ennui or sex or fear or satisfaction into every little "oh" or "no" or "yes." Is she an object to be tossed from man to man? A sexual fantasy? An embodiment of Freudian Mommy-issues? Or is she a feminist icon? A beacon of sexual empowerment? The interpretations are infinite, and Perloff does not impose any one view. Rather, she allows her audience the inevitable post-theater debates that stem from Ruth's every action.

Anthony Fusco as Teddy, the hapless husband, Andrew Polk as Lenny, the violent womanizer and Jack Willis as the terrifying, bile-spitting patriarch take turns to dominate the stage. The hunt for a redeemable character may be futile, but the hunt for world-class performances is not.

Perloff's "The Homecoming" is a must-see this season. Prepare to leave the theater confused, inspired or shaken - but most likely of all, seduced.

Hannah Jewell is the lead theater critic. Contact her at [email protected]

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