Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Original WTF Play

The Homecoming, Cort Theatre. That sound you hear on 48th Street at 10:30 every night is a lot of people scratching their heads over the second act of this play,which still, after over 40 years, feels like a deliberate kick in the face by the playwright. Great acting, but I'm not ashamed to say I still don't know what the foo is going on in this play.

The acting is fantastic, the performances are never less than riveting, and the family stuff is dark and hilarious and makes perfect sense until the sexual/power struggle stuff kicks in, at which point every expectation you have goes out the window, along with the logic of character and action. And it still works, on its own definitely unique terms, so what do I know?

Well, I don't know what's going on in that second act, I'll tell you that. Yes, it's about Ruth's homecoming, not Teddy's, but all the implications that its the three sons' dead mother come back to life (Ruth has three boys herself) seems like a desperate attempt to give thematic unity to an out-of-control script, and the "What do you say to a little prostitution, Ruth?/I say I need to see it in writing and here's my list of things to buy" turn to the plot, which could actually use some thematic development (woman as sex object), comes out of nowhere and then takes the play back with it.

My attempts to make sense of all this as we stood outside in the cold and watched Michael McKean sign autographs: "It's like nobody mentions the elephant in the room; and then the elephant disappears. You hear it; you see its shadow; but it never shows up." "I would have loved to have been in on the rehearsals, because all the actors know what's going on, even if we don't."

From Penelope Gilliat's review of the 1965 Royal Shakespeare production:

The drama in The Homecoming is not the plot. In Pinter it never is. It consists in the swaying of violent people as they gain minute advantages. A man who does the washing-up has the advantage over a man sitting in an armchair who thinks he can hear resentment in every swilling tea-leaf. The member of a married couple who stays up late has the advantage over the one who goes to bed first. A father has the advantage over his children as long as he can make them think of their birth and not let them remind him of his own death: the sons are condemned to ruminate interminably about what happened the night they were made in the image of those two people, at it.

Makes as much sense as anything else, I guess. I wonder if she came up with that while she was scratching her head and watching Ian Holm sign autographs.

Personally, I can't wait for the reviews when this opens so I can read Ben Brantley's "I refuse to admit I didn't understand this play" SAT essay on all things Pinter.

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