Last week I opened in a new show: Harold Pinter’s (Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) “The Homecoming,” a very famous play (and which now looks impressive on my theatrical resume). In it I play the mentally unbalanced head of a very dysfunctional lower-class English family, in what is a dark comedy that sends the audience out of the theater arguing about what it all meant. For this role I had to learn a new accent, which was difficult, and, since I have the largest part, pages and pages of dialogue that ramble disconcertingly from one topic to another. My character, Max, is a 70 year-old retired butcher, who has three sons, one of whom comes back suddenly from America with his new wife (hence the “homecoming” of the title). Max has dialogue like this one as he talks about his deceased wife with his newly-discovered daughter-in-law, while pointing to his three sons:
Mind you, she taught those boys everything they know . . . Every single bit of the moral code they live by was taught to them by their mother. And she had a heart to go with it. What a heart! Listen, what’s the use of beating around the bush? That woman was the backbone to this family.
But less than a minute later, angry at his brother for possibly being late for work, he descends to this diatribe:
I worked as a butcher all my life, using the chopper and the slab . . . to keep my family in luxury. Two families! My mother was bedridden, my brothers were all invalids. I had to earn the money for the leading psychiatrists. I had to read books! I had to study the disease, so that I could cope with an emergency at every stage. A crippled family, three bastard sons, a slutbitch of wife—don’t talk to me about the pain of childbirth—I’ve felt the pain, I’ve still got the pangs—when I give a little cough my back collapses—and here I’ve got a lazy idle bugger of a brother won’t even get to work on time!
Language this chaotic is—I’ve discovered—harder to learn than Shakespeare because Max jumps wildly from one thought to another, often with no obvious connection between them. At one moment he’s a loving man, and the next he needs a straight jacket (and everyone on stage would help put him in it).
Our cast is terrific (five men, one woman), with every one of these talented people having a great time with their roles. Our director, Bo Rabby, is possibly the best director I’ve ever worked with (he directed me in “The Price” last year), and he knows how to make his cast delve into the inner workings of any play, particularly ones as interesting and mysterious as “The Homecoming.”
|Harold Pinter at the time of the play|
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Harold Pinter, the playwright. Whenever I see or read one of his plays I always think the same thoughts: people don’t talk like this, people don’t act like this, but—wow!— what’s happening on the stage is fascinating. In “The Homecoming” the play veers from simple conversations into a major fight scene with injured people all over the place, to a major seduction scene in which various men vie for the attention of the newly-arrived daughter-in-law, to an ending that produces gasps from the audience.
|Aftermath of the Fight Scene|
Each night when I go out front after the show to talk to the audience as they exit, I clown with them and challenge them to “Please explain to me what the play means.” I thought they would throw up their hands at this question, but I was wrong. They all have definite thoughts about what’s just happened and what the characters were doing (and I’ve learned some things from listening to their comments). Three very young women who came on opening night told me that the seduction scene in Act One was mesmerizing, which surprised me greatly. Also surprising is how funny much of the play is, with the laughs coming not only at predicable moments, but also when Pinter spins things so that the audience is gasping to keep up with the shenanigans on stage.
We have twelve performances left. “The Homecoming” plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. for the last week of October and the first two weeks of November at the Columbus Civic Theater, 3837 Indianola Ave. Columbus, OH 43214. Tickets can be reserved by calling (614) 447-PLAY or online at http://www.columbuscivic.org/index.html.Come see us and then perhaps you can explain to me your own take on what this terrific play is all about. I also predict that same night, as you put your head on your pillow, you’ll puzzle over the play for some time. Theater that makes you think—just what Pinter had in mind!
|[Click to enlarge]|
"Douglas Whaley, Actor," August 14, 2010
"Directing 'Closure'," June 5, 2010
“I Am an 89 Year-Old Russian Jew,” January 31, 2011
“Another Opening, Another Show: Doug is in ‘Hamlet,’” April 29, 2011