Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Homecoming : American Conservatory Theatre : Company Undaunted by Challenging Material

Harold Pinter’s darkly satiric vision of familial dysfunction, gender and class politics relies heavily upon sarcasm, derision and the absurd to make its point. To the extent the use of such devices doesn’t obscure the truth of his observations is ultimately a matter of taste. For it not to fail, however, one’s own life experience must provide some semblance of recognition.

Of course, the challenge for all the players is to maintain the perfect tone without sacrificing the basic humanity of the characters. This is extraordinarily difficult to do when one is asked to recite dialogue devoid of any civility and behave in a manner that strains credulity. As such, it’s a unique opportunity for both the performer and the director to show their true mettle.

Happily, for the most part, they get it right. It’s clear that Carey Perloff  has a special grasp of the material and understands how to utilize acting talent, tempo and staging to maximum effect.

Jack Willis gives the finest performance of his career as Max, the odious, widowed patriarch. Despite disemboweling everyone with his words, he manages to instill an underlying sense of loss, regret and profound loneliness.  It’s at once a larger-than-life and finely nuanced performance, and he commands your attention from the first line.

The four remaining male characters are played with varying degrees of success, each effectively conveying a conspicuous impotence that is painful to watch. Andrew Polk, as Lenny, takes full advantage of his meatier role and somehow maintains a deft balance between the comic and the despicable.  He's very funny!

Unfortunately, the same skill is not in evidence by the normally dependable Anthony Fusco. As the “homecoming” son, Teddy, his near paralytic reactions suggest he’s as baffled as we are by his cuckold character. Not for a moment did I find him credible at any level.

And then there’s Rene Augesen, as Teddy's wife Ruth, whose amazing talent will not be undermined by an underwritten part. Displaying a remarkable dexterity with the subtle gesture, quizzical expression, and furtive glance, she brings a depth and sexual power to an otherwise inscrutable character. Ostensibly a victim of male misogyny, her motivations are not readily understood until the revelation of the final scene.  It’s another winning turn by A.C.T.’s most versatile and reliable core member. Bravo!

Pinter is undoubtedly an acquired taste, but the insight into human nature and how we treat one another is certainly food for thought and will resonate long after one has left the theatre. And the marvelous acting is definitely the icing on the cake. Go see it!

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