Vol. 1 No. 3 2008


A Whore, A Whore, My Kingdom For A Whore!

Pinter's enduring work delivers again in the hands of a skillful cast

Reviewed by James Petcoff

The Homecoming

By Harold Pinter

Directed by Daniel Sullivan

At The Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
New York, New York

Max – Ian McShane
Lenny – Raul Esparza
Sam – Michael McKean
Joey – Gareth Saxe
Teddy – James Frain
Ruth – Eva Best

A play that stands the test of time, multiple revivals and interpretations over four decades must have something important to pass on to each new generation. That experience of cathartic transfer that skilled actors provide to an audience as they interact verbally and through motion and silence can spark new interest, understanding and interpretation of motivation to a work accepted as a great piece of theatre. So it is with the Cort Theatre’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, starring Ian McShane, that opened in December 2007.

Max, the low-rent patriarch of a dysfunctional, cockney and all-male household, lives in the family home in the north of London. He lords it over his younger brother and two sons with threats, recriminations and the occasional “thwack!” of his cane; a stick that he wields like a sword in the hands of some funky, out-of-time Richard III. McShane stalks the stage and smolders as he bullies his brother Sam and his sons – Lenny, the pimp and Joey, the brain addled boxer. He brings in the repressed violence that he used to good effect in his role of Al Swearengen in HBO’s Deadwood.

Raul Esparza plays Lenny as a coiled spring returning his father’s threats with mocking irony.

“Oh, Daddy, you’re not going to use your stick on me, Daddy. No, please. It wasn’t my fault, it was one of the others. I haven’t done anything wrong, Dad, honest. Don’t clout me with that stick, Dad.”

This line, followed by one of Pinter’s evocative silences, gives us volumes of back story for what we are about to witness.

Into this nest of male vipers walks Teddy, the estranged son of Max, brother to Lenny and Joey, with his wife, Ruth.

Teddy, as played by James Frain, is a distant and disconnected prig. He has escaped the feral family nest to reinvent himself as a college philosophy professor in America. He has traded the mean streets of his upbringing for the vacuous pretentiousness of a sterile academia.

Ruth, as played by Eve Best, is the focal point of the play from the moment she enters. She exudes a sensuality that is all the more obvious because Teddy seems oblivious to her manifestations of marital frustration. Even fully dressed, she brings an erotic tension onto the stage that grabs the audience before she meets Lenny, Joey or Max. The stage is set, the trap primed.

When Ruth sits down in the chair at stage right, takes off her coat and allows the scarf around her neck to slither down into her lap – like the pet boa constrictor of some side show hoochie coochie dancer – we are hooked – line and sinker.

From her first encounter with Lenny, Ruth gains the upper hand over the issue of, “to drink or not to drink”, a glass of water by aggressively standing up to Lenny’s attempts to dominate her while maintaining a languid sense of detachment; a detachment that will fascinate and frustrate the randy household, except the genteel Sam.

The Genteel Sam is a man out of sorts with the other denizens of his household. Michael McKean gives a wonderful Pinteresque performance of a character whose lines have meaning beyond the words he speaks. The others mock and ridicule him for his inflated sense of propriety. There is a touch of bitter irony in McKean’s voice as he describes to Max the pleasure he took in driving Jessie, Max’s wife, about town. The irony is lost on the loutish Max. This is a small victory, for Sam and McKean’s delivery makes it so.

When Sam dies unexpectedly, in the midst of telling the others a dark secret concerning Jessie, no one seems to care very much. Max just wants the mess cleaned up, and Teddy is put out of sorts because Sam cannot chauffeur him to the airport. He must take the tube.

With the demise of Sam, all sense of propriety goes out the window. Teddy leaves to return to America, (leaving his wife behind), where he may reinvent himself yet again or perhaps morph into the tenure-obsessed professor in David Mamet’s, ‘Olleana.

Garth Saxe, as Joey, the boxer, delivers a minimalist, riveting performance motivated by base animal need. There are no preliminaries before he assaults Ruth.

By the time he returns to the living room after being up stairs with Ruth for several hours, he admits to Lenny and Teddy that he did not go, “the whole hog”.

“I’ve been the whole hog plenty of times. Sometimes…you can be happy…and not go the whole hog. Now and again…you can be happy…without going any hog.”

Perhaps Joey, as played by Mr. Saxe, is saying he received something much more gratifying that sex from Ruth – empathy, perhaps?

Ruth begins the play sitting in the chair at stage right. She seduces and is then assaulted by the very physical Joey on the couch at stage left. By the end of the play, she has claimed Max’s throne, at center stage, dictating terms as to her position in the household she will now command.

Max falls to his knees and rants, “I’m not an old man.”

Ruth continues to stroke Joey’s head with a hint of a Mona Lisa smile on her face. She is the QUEEN. She is the ruler of men. She has come home and claimed a Kingdom.

I can hear Max in my head roar – “A whore, a whore, my kingdom for a whore!”

James Petcoff lives on Cape Cod. He occasionally makes forays over the bridge to Boston and New York for intellectual stimulation.

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