Review: 'The Homecoming' at SLAS, There's No Place Like Home

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Harold Pinter’s plays are more about what is not said by the characters—the stuff in-between the lines or what actors call inner dialogue—than they are about the actual spoken lines. Suppose, for example, an actor greets another character with “hello,” but what he’s thinking is “this guy really pisses me off.” That sub-textual thought—or inner dialogue—will drastically change the way the actor says, “hello.” We do it in our real lives constantly, but actors must manufacture it and make it believable.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

That ability is the keystone of an actor’s craft, and a Pinter play demands that the actors are not just good at it, but proficient. The stellar production of “The Homecoming,” currently playing at St. Louis Actor’s Studio, makes for a wonderful revisit or introduction to the world of Pinter and playing between the lines.

(L to R) Charlie Barron, Peter Mayer*, Missy Heinemann, Ben Ritchie, Larry Dell and Nathan Bush Photo by John Lamb

(L to R) Charlie Barron, Peter Mayer, Missy Heinemann, Ben Ritchie, Larry Dell and Nathan Bush
Photo by John Lamb

The play takes place in a North London home of Max, a retired butcher, his brother Sam, and his two sons Lenny and Joey. A third son, Teddy, lives in America with his wife and three sons and hasn’t been seen by the family in six years. It is his “homecoming,” along with wife Ruth, that sets the play in its bizarre and intriguing direction, and one that is packed with symbolism, thematic interpretations, and generous helping of “what just happened?” moments.

The bare bones of the plot goes like this: Philosophy professor Teddy brings his wife home to meet the family, she gets sexually aggressive with the men in the household, they propose putting her to work as a prostitute, she agrees, and Teddy returns to America and his three sons without her. But describing a Pinter plot only raises more questions, and “The Homecoming” raises lots of them.

Was Ruth a prostitute back when Teddy married her? There are hints that she may have been. She describes her former life as a “model of the body,” and her first inclination when they arrive at the house in North London in the middle of the night is to take a walk, or literally “walk the streets,” so perhaps the play is about her homecoming, not prodigal son Teddy’s. Furthermore, when the family makes her the offer, she takes charge, making savvy contractual demands and raising the question of exactly who is using whom.

There is also the question of whether Teddy wants his wife to stay behind and take this new role in his family, which can be viewed as her stepping into the role vacated by the family’s missing mother figure. Early in the play, Max first mistakes Ruth as a trollop whom Teddy brought home for a romp, railing, “I’ve never had a whore under this roof before–ever since your mother died.” It is also significant that Teddy returns to America to occupy a now motherless house with three sons, exactly what Max’s house in North London had been before Ruth jumped ship.

Peter Mayer is outstanding as Max. Volatile and unpredictable, he can cut somebody to the quick with one line, build them up the next, and then slice them into pieces. Carlie Barron as apparent pimp Lenny is snake-like, his every word and every movement, turgid with danger and sly manipulation. Joey, the youngest brother played by Nathan Bush, is a boxer-in-training who seems to have taken a few too many punches to the head. Teddy, played by Ben Ritchie, remains the most enigmatic character; the audience is never quite sure where he stands or what his true feelings are. Larry Dell as Sam creates the most likable character. Missy Heinemann plays the many facets of Ruth with aplomb, brooding one moment only to become the cheerful, perfect wife the next, and then into the manipulative sex pot who wields her sexuality like a weapon.

Milton Zoth directs skillfully, creating tension through staging and, particularly, with pacing. The second act is a mesmerizing exercise in audience anxiety. Patrick Huber does a fine job with the set and lighting in the small black box theater, and Carla Landis Evans’ costumes suit the characters who wear them.

“The Homecoming” is a literary masterwork, and the St. Louis Actor’s Studio production rises to the same level of excellence.

The play continues through June 8. For information or tickets to “The Homecoming,” visit the SLAS website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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