ACT PRESENTS…..THE HOMECOMING…a masterpiece on every level.
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Carey Perloff
Starring Andrew Polk, Jack Willis, Kenneth Welsh, Adam O’Byrne, Anthony Fusco & Rene Augesen
People talk about dysfunctional families;
I’ve never seen any other kind.
Sue Grafton

When we watch a play unfold on stage, we try to figure out what makes each character react the way he does to the lines he delivers and the action we see. That approach will not work with a Harold Pinter play. The reason his work is so mesmerizing is that we are watching the motivations being created before our eyes. You cannot ask why a character says what he does or reacts in ways you want to understand because those reactions and their motivation happen on stage in the moment. Even Pinter has no idea how is characters will develop until he puts them through their paces. He is like every fine author since composition began. He uses his writing to explain life. “If I could have defined it, I wouldn’t have written it,” he says. “This really applies to everything I write.”

“When watching a Pinter play, you must free yourself from the obligation to attach meaning or to interpret and simply enter into the game being played,” says director Carey Perloff. ”Pinter took his characters incredibly seriously and conceived of them not as symbols or metaphors, but as passionate, sexual, often violent individuals trying to protect themselves and their territory from outside danger. …What fascinated him about human beings was not psychology but behavior – the complicated and often hilarious betrayal, family warfare, humiliation and death.”

And that is why the characters in THE HOMECOMING fascinate us even as they startle and repel us. Jack Willis is in top form as the father of his brood, a sour, angry, retired butcher who feels that his control of his family is slipping from his grasp. His son Lenny, (Andrew Polk) regards him with disgust and derision. Polk is so real on that stage that one shudders at the thought of his ilk confronting any human being. He is the ultimate example of pure self interest with no regard for others except to the extent he can manipulate them. Anthony Fusco is Teddy, the only son who has managed to escape the penumbra of his family. He is a professor of philosophy and lives in the United States with his wife Ruth (Rene Augesen) and their two children. One of the shocking elements of this play that is causally dropped into the conversation is that Teddy and Ruth married while still in England but his family had no idea that they had wed. To add to this mix of dysfunction, frustration and anger, we are introduced to Sam (Kenneth Welsh) Max’s younger brother, who revered Max’s deceased wife Jessie and seems (at first) to be the most human member of this abusive callused, insensitive brood.

THE HOMECOMING is Rene Augesen’s play. Her Ruth is a cold, calculating woman determined to escape the life she is in and live on her own terms. Teddy is obviously happy with her and is satisfied with their relationship. He tells the others that she is a fine cook and an excellent mother…but the audience can actually feel Ruth’s distance from him and her distaste. She is not to be dominated and you can see it in her refusal to go to bed when the two arrive at the house, her manipulation of Lenny , Jack and Joey (Adam O’Byrne). She refuses to allow the men to attach more meaning to her response to them than the act itself. “Look at me,” she says. “I…move my leg. That’s all it is. But I wear….underwear…which moves with me…it…captures your attention. Perhaps you misinterpret. The action is simple.”

The ending of the play is the puzzle. Why does Ruth decide not to return home with Teddy to her two children and instead stay with these atavistic, self-serving and duplistic men? There is really no need to answer that. You can see her reasoning before your eyes. She is offered her own flat and she demands a new wardrobe, a personal maid and a contract drawn up to her liking…but she never actually says she will be the prostitute the men assume she will become to “earn her keep.” She is in control. As Teddy’s wife, she was not. She was a faculty wife, and a mother with duties that defined her. At the end of this play, she is Ruth and she is the one who delineates who she is and what she does. “She’s misinterpreted deliberately and used by this family,” says Pinter. “But eventually she comes back at them with a whip. She says, ‘If you want to play this game I can play it as well as you.’ ’’

“In THE HOMECOMING, the past exists more potently in the minds of the characters than as a set of independent, objective, verifiable facts,” says Michael Paller discussing Pinter’s writing. “It is the act of remembering that makes a memory real.”

And that is how it is in life, isn’t it? We live in the present and recall a past that validates where we are in the moment. THE HOMECOMING gives us two hours of life happening in a house in North London with characters we hope we never meet in a dark alley. The acting is superb; the set strikes exactly the right note. It is stark, empty and disturbing. “I don’t think of myself as making the set as much as making the experience,” said designer Daniel Ostling, and his design sets the tone. It heightens the bleakness of this family and the emptiness of their lives. The language is perfect: phrases you wish you could remember forever that say exactly what the character means. Max says of Ruth “We’ve had a smelly scrubber in my house all night.” You cannot beat that for total derision.

“Pinter’s words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other,” said Peter Hall who has staged many Pinter plays. Indeed, Perloff and her unbelievable talented cast have given us a glimpse of reality we won’t soon forget. This is a must see play and one that will stay with you in all its horrifying dimensions. It is unforgettable.

THE HOMECOMING continues through March 27, 2011 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Tickets & Information 415 749 2228;