Friday, February 12, 2010

The Homecoming by Harold Pinter opened on June 3, 1965 at the Aldwych Theatre as a Royal Shakespeare Company production, directed by Peter Hall. Vivien Merchant, then Pinter's wife, played Ruth. Paul Rogers (Max), Ian Holm (Lenny), John Normington (Sam), Terence Rigby (Joey), Michael Bryant (Teddy) were the rest of the original cast.

The first American production opened on January 5, 1967 at the Music Box theatre on Broadway with the same director and cast, except that Michael Craig played Teddy. It won the 1967 Tony Award for Best Play. Paul Rogers won as Best Actor, Ian Holm as Best Featured Actor and Peter Hall as Best Director. It was the success of this production in New York that made Pinter's reputation.

A filmed version was produced as part of the American Film Theatre series in 1973, with screenplay by Harold Pinter. In most respects it duplicated the original stage production, with Peter Hall directing the same cast, except that Cyril Cusak played Sam and Michael Jayston played Teddy. This version is available on DVD.

Of the many subsequent productions in the UK, a notable one was in Watford in 1969, with Harold Pinter playing Lenny. According to a review, Pinter played up the humor in his character, and the entire production was a good deal funnier than the original.

The Homecoming was revived on Broadway in 1991 and then in a 40th anniversary production at the Cort Theatre in 2008. The 2008 production won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play, and the Drama Desk Award for outstanding ensemble performance.

Martin Esslin's analysis adds some information about the milieu in which the play takes place. It eventually becomes apparent in the play that Lenny's business is prostitution--basically, he's a pimp. But Esslin suggests that the father, Max, may also have a criminal or underworld background, which could have involved him in a prostitution racket as well. Esslin finds hints that chauffeurs like Sam are important parts of a prostitution business, and speculates that the dead wife/mother who figures so prominently in the play may herself have been a prostitute. He believes the evidence is fairly strong that Ruth's career as a "model" was actually as a prostitute.

"The Homecoming changed my life," wrote critic John Lahr. "Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realized, could convey volumes. In 1967, I didn’t know quite what I’d seen; I knew only that the play’s spectacular combination of mystery and rigor had taught me something new about life, about language, about the nature of dramatic storytelling. Pinter had taken the narration out of theatre: The Homecoming offered no explanations, no theory, no truths, no through line, no certainties of any kind."

The Homecoming is the last and best play of Pinter’s fecund early period (1957-65)," Lahr continues. "It is a culmination of the poetic ambiguities, the minimalism, and the linguistic tropes of his earlier major plays :The Birthday Party (1958), whose first production lasted only a week in London, though the play was seen by eleven million people when it was broadcast on TV in 1960, and The Caretaker (1960), an immediate international hit. The Homecoming is both a family romance and a turf war."

"The challenge of interpreting the play has not abated over time," wrote Village Voice critic Michael Feingold. "It ranks as one of the essential dramatic works of the last half century."

No comments: