Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Leslie Reidel
When: Wednesday, September 29, 7:30pm
Where: Hartshorn Theater
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
What: Play, Professional/Conservatory
The University of Delaware's Professional Theater Training Program/Resident Ensemble Players opens up their 2010-11 theater season with Harold Pinter's 1964 play The Homecoming. Rather than start out with a bang, the college opens with an unfortunate whimper. Admittedly, I'm a day removed from the play and I'm still thinking about what exactly I saw yesterday evening, but I still wonder if this isn't one of those "artsy" things that's loved simply because people don't understand it, don't want to look stupid, and say they adore it to appear high-brow.
The year is 1965 and we're taken into the living room of a house in North London. Living in the home is the patriarch, Max, a curmudgeonly old man. Alongside Max is his brother, Sam, and his two sons, Lenny and Joey. Max doesn't make it easy to live with him, always harping on the past (both fondly and not-so-fondly), recalling life when his wife was still around to help him raise his boys.
One evening, Max's other son, Teddy, returns home in the middle of the night with his wife of nine years, Ruth. Rather than be pleased at the return of his son (whom he hasn't seen or heard from in nearly a decade), Max is extremely irritated that Teddy would allow a "bitch" in the house since no woman has stepped in his domain since the death of his wife. Little does Max know that when he bandies about the words "whore" and "slut" when referring to Ruth that those may be apt descriptors. Ruth, a mother of three sons, turns out to be quite sexually charged and may be more than willing to do things that could cause a rift in her marriage.
The major problem with the play is the character of Ruth. I believe that Pinter looks at Ruth as "WOMAN" -- as the only female amongst a group of men, she is a symbol of womankind. If that's the case, what is "woman?" Is she the head of the household? When Max's wife died, it seems that even if he didn't respect her, he missed the fact that she kept the house together. Is "woman" simply a sex object? Yes, one could say Ruth takes control of her sexuality by the play's end and is able to control men like puppets. But one could also say that Ruth is simply debasing herself to the lowest possible level to which a woman could stoop. Ultimately, the play is open-ended, but I would have liked a little more conclusive evidence as to what Pinter was attempting to say.
Then again, Pinter has a difficult time trying to get anything across it seems. While watching, I couldn't help but be distracted by the incredibly odd pause-filled dialog and the rather off-putting abrupt changes in conversation. At first, I was blaming the actors and the director for creating this type of atmosphere. Little did I know that this is what Pinter is relatively famous for. On another website, I came across the idea that Pinter uses these pauses to describe the "noncommunication" between the characters. "Noncommunication" is certainly correct -- there's a lack of information presented in the words which causes the audience to attempt to fill in the gaps, but there's just too much left unsaid. To me, the cadence of the words (and sometimes the words themselves) just don't work in the slightest.
As far as the production goes, The Homecoming is by far the least interesting I've seen by the college group. The set is incredibly minimal and there's nothing overly special done with the lighting, sound design, costumes, or even the acting. I understand that in every subscription series, there's going to be those one or two plays that are minimalist in order to help a troupe save the dough for another show. I just found it quite odd that the REP/PTTP decided to open their season with this play. Had this been my first experience with the group, I must say that I would not have been impressed (moreso with the choice of the play than anything else). Still, this is the first production by the group that I haven't liked in one way or another. I certainly have faith that the remainder of the season will be filled with better plays.