The Homecoming -12/07/1998
By Harold Pinter. Cast: Steven M. Keen, Jarrett Dapier, John Chandler, William Kephart, Bryan Penne, Mindy Manolakes. Director: Leigh Harbin. Scenic Designer: Tony Engel. Lighting Designer: S. Alicia Cross. Costume Designer: Caryl Henkel. Audio Designers: Leigh Harbin & Grady Elliott.
The Celebration Company.
Through December 19. The Station Theater, 223 N. Broadway, Urbana. Box office: 384-4000.
When it comes to Pinter plays like “The Homecoming,” everyone always wants to know the same thing. What does it mean?
Harold Pinter himself won’t give extra help -- he says his plays mean what they say they mean, no more, no less. But mostly they seem to mean what they don’t say, as dialogue and characters meander around the fringe of meaning, leaving all the important bits hanging out there in the ether somewhere, unsaid but not unfelt.
“The Homecoming,” first performed in 1965, is classic Pinter -- odd, quirky, unsettling, with the plot (such as it is) spiraling from Jerry Springer territory (incest and abuse) downward into a surreal domestic dumping ground. There is a haze around this play -- literally, as the men smoke cigars in each other’s faces, and figuratively, as these people act from impulses we can’t fathom.
Nontheless, you can’t escape the cruelty and misogyny here, as there is only one female character, and she is treated as no more than a bizarre sex object by the plot and the characters.
The Station Theater production, directed by Leigh Harbin, blunts the cruelty toward women somewhat, by making that sole female character, Ruth, a dreamy, demonic mother figure. This odd creature, someone who could’ve lived upstairs from Rosemary’s Baby, becomes neither a victim nor a villain, just a prototype Madonna/Whore all mixed together.
Although she isn’t related by blood to this horrible family, she’s the one who experiences the homecoming in the title -- coming home to her own need to be desired, I guess.
The sense that Ruth is a sort of mythic succubus rather than a real person makes the misogyny easier to take, but the play even more difficult to decipher.
“The Homecoming” is a very 60’s play, and it might be better served with more connection to its time period in terms of hair, make-up and general tone.
The other missing component is a sense of place. Although Pinter’s dialogue (‘arf-and-’arf and ‘arse come to mind) sounds like England, nothing else -- set, costumes, accents, etc. -- really smacks of British working class life.
Among the cast, there are several interesting portrayals, as the audience scrambles to figure out who these people are and what the heck is going on.
The standouts are Steven M. Keen, unrelenting and scary as a very twisted old man, and William Kephart, sweetly funny as the youngest brother, somewhere in the neighborhood of Rocky Balboa’s dumber, more damaged cousin.
Mindy Manolakes is coy and coquettish as odd-woman-out Ruth, and Bryan Penne, as her college professor husband, shows a nice touch for the character’s intellectualism, although he could’ve used more sense of conflict, more layers.
Likewise, Jarrett Dapier does good work with the odd, creepy side of the third brother, Lenny, if not really unearthing the slimy, manipulative part of him.
All told, this is a neatly delineated Pinter play, intelligently presented, with some sharp moments and darkly comic edges. Still, as so often seems to be the case with Pinter, you’re left wondering what it all meant, what you saw and didn’t see, whether it meant anything at all.
My guess -- it means something to those who like their drama steeped in cigar smoke, as murky as possible.