Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 14. 1966.
The Homecoming: a great play
The Homecoming: a great play
It Is A Rare occasion when one feels that a great play has its greatness fully realised in performance, and yet the Downstage production of Pinter's The Homecoming was such an occasion. Depth of characterisation and dramatically powerful situations exploited fully the resources and skills of each actor. but at no time was there any suggestion that the cast did not have complete control over the action of the play
The play's one significant event was the homecoming of Ruth and her husband Teddy, the old man Max's favourite son. Ruth, whose marriage to Teddy. was unknown to the family, was a new and catalytic element in the family's life, creating a situation which finally necessitated her making a choice between staying with the family and being prostituted by them, or returning to the United States with her husband. Pinter's very great dramatic skill was shown by the way in which Ruth was drawn into the very centre of the play, a way which was consonant with the gradual clarification of the deep issues and problems from which the often contradictory actions of the characters, especially Max, arose.
On her arrival Ruth had been stiff and unresponsive, and her movements were negligent, casual, on the periphery of the house and its occupants. As the play progressed, she moved more and more freely among the rooms and furniture and people, interlacing with them in a way which expressed her crowing implication in the play's central questions. At the end of the play she had assumed the father's chair, central in the stage and symbolic of control over the occupants of the house.
That tension which gave force and impetus to the action was maintained by doubt, doubt in the spectator's mind concerning the true significance of question. statement, and action, doubt in the character's mind expressed in contradictory attitudes and actions. or questions which received inadequate answers. Lenny, one of Max's sons, asked Max about the circumstances of his conception. a basic question in a situation where questions concerning fatherhood and sonship assumed increasing importance. There was no reply except anger, and the doubt of character and spectatorpersisted, to be intensified when Max, asking Teddy if he is the father of his own children, is answered only by a bitter silence.
Max's dead wife Jessie played a very important part in the lives of all the characters, but a part which was never explained to the audience. She was, it became clear, the primary source of doubt in the lives of each person.' Her past relationships were felt to be springs of attitude and action which lay beyond the character's consciousness and seemed initially little related to her. Max both praised her as the Loving, constant wife and mother, and damned her as a whore. When he met Ruth for the first time Mix vigorously attacked her as a whore (an attack Which neither offended nor moved her), but when her marriage to Teddy was explained. his mood changed immediately and a view of Ruth as Wife and Mother overwhelmed him.
Specific incidents such as these underline the play's achievement of a totally credible dramatic situation. There were no "significant speeches in which the characters took time off from their lives to tell the spectator how their actions must be interpreted. Even in Teddy's great speech of assertion, when he condemned his family's world and asserted his philosophical independence from it, the impression was not that the philosophy explained the play, but that it had some elements of a true perspective while being essentially hollow.
There were two sorts of consideration as Max saw them, the "economic" and the "human." Near the end of the play. Sam. Max's brother was able to stand the discussion about Ruth's prostitution no longer, and rose in anguish to say the Jessie had played Whore in the back of his car with MacGregor, Max's best friend. He then collapses, is found not to be dead. and remains on the floor. forgotten. The human consideration had especially serious limitations, limitations which Max is no nearer to understanding at the end of the play than he was at the beginning. One aspect of The Homecoming's worth lies in the fact that the audience was enabled to understand a very great deal.
Each character achieved his own proper life without suggesting that he secretly knew what it was all about. It is this particularly which made the end of the play so fine and so essentially dramatic. Ruth, seated in the father's chair had both Joey, the youngest son, and Lenny about her. Max. completely distraught. was asserting that although old he was still virile, and as he reached on hands and knees for the chair, the ploy ended with his terrible words. "Kiss me.'
Any comment about the acting and production does not single out individuals. The competence and excellence of each actor's performance, the fine use of setting and stage, are marks of a highly successful and exceptional production.