Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE HOMECOMING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Playwright Harold Pinter's works have fallen into a category called, "Comedy of Menace". STLAS's current production, "The Homecoming", exemplifies this definition, proving that nearly fifty years after the play's London premiere, this family struggle for dominance and sexual power still has the capacity to jar, amuse and disquiet. Love…

The patriarch of this noxious clan is Max (Peter Mayer), a widower, retired butcher and withering pillar of strength in suspenders trying to maintain supremacy in his bleak North London home. He rules with constant jabs from his armchair throne, and the threat for the top-dog spot comes from his icy son Lenny (Charlie Barron), a violent pimp who wears a perpetual smirk of contempt. Max's youngest son Joey (Nathan Bush), a dimwitted aspiring boxer, and his brother Sam (Larry Dell), a docile chauffeur, also live in the house and pose no threat, but are subjected to Max's tyranny nonetheless. The wrangling for the upper-hand shifts when Max's eldest son Teddy (Ben Ritchie) brings his wife of six years, Ruth (Missy Heinemann), back to his home in the middle of the night.

Charlie Barron (Lenny), Larry Dell (Sam), Nathan Bush (Joey),
Peter Mayer (Max), Ben Ritchie (Teddy)
and Missy Heinemann (Ruth).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The family had no idea that Teddy, a philosophy professor now living in America, was married with three sons of his own, and the presence of a woman in the house is something these guys haven't had for some time. After Max initially thinks that Ruth is a prostitute hired for a little cavorting, Teddy properly introduces her as his wife. With the matriarch of the family long gone, remembered by Max with a mixture of attraction and repulsion, the boys readjust to the female energy in the place, answering overt flirtations from Ruth (formerly a "photographic model for the body") with animal-like ogling one moment and yielding reverence the next.

Peter Mayer (Max), Charlie Barron (Lenny), Ben Ritchie (Teddy),
Nathan Bush (Joey) and Larry Dell (Sam).
Photo credit: John Lamb
You have to wonder if Teddy is as shocked by his family's behavior as we are. Probably not. I mean, he knows these guys -- not that that makes the resolution any less bizarre -- a resolution that sends Teddy back to America alone. After being abroad, engaged in intellectual stimulation with his teaching, Teddy's return seems unsettling for him, rendering him ineffectual, while Ruth, who describes the States as a vast landscape of rocks and insects, makes you wonder just whose homecoming this is. Actually, this play will make you wonder a lot. Flecked with Pinter's heavy trademark pauses that weigh as much as the dialogue, the baffling choices made are just something you gotta see in person. 

Under Milton Zoth's skillfully balanced direction, this proficient cast creates distinctly drawn characters with wonderful chemistry. Max is a nasty fella, and Mayer's verbal barrages cut deep, but then he turns on a dime to reveal a sad, sad man. Dell makes for a dead-on counterpoint to his brother Max, meek in action and speech, brushing up against the higher circles through his job -- a dove to Max's hawk. Barron is a standout as a snarky, stony-eyed Lenny, and he attacks and defends against his father like a dog in a pen that's too small. Heinemann's Ruth navigates this group of men maintaining a firm hold of the reins, doling out measures of mothering affection and sexually provocative teasing. Ritchie as the oldest son Teddy, who calibrates to his family with much less ease, does a marvelous job, almost standing in for the audience with his expressions -- almost helpless and unwilling to stand in opposition too strongly. Nathan Bush rounds out the cast as Joey, a dense pushover, breathing through a slightly parted mouth with a humorously blank face. Patrick Huber's scenic and lighting design underline the rundown conditions of the house, with the costume design of Carla Landis Evans complementing each character.

Charlie Barron (Lenny), Peter Mayer (Max),
Missy Heinemann (Ruth), Ben Ritchie (Teddy),
Larry Dell (Sam) and Nathan Bush (Joey).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This classic, meaty story may leave you feeling like you've been sucker punched, but go on -- sink your teeth in. It's running at the Gaslight until June 8th. 


Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Milton Zoth
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through June 8 | tickets: $30.25 - $35.25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Peter Mayer* (Max), Missy Heinemann (Ruth), Charlie Barron (Lenny), Nathan Bush (Joey), Larry Dell (Sam) and Ben Ritchie (Teddy).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic/lighting design by Patrick Huber; costume/props design by Carla Landis Evans; sound design by Robin Weatherall; fight choreography by Shawn Sheley; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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