Los Angeles Theater Review: THE HOMECOMING (Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice)

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by Jason Rohrer on June 1, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


Harold Pinter wasn’t an Ivory Tower practitioner who won a Nobel for writing twenty-nine shocking plays about morality and five or six books of rather precious poetry. He was a professional writer who also typed up (get my salts!) almost thirty movies, including some of the gold standard screenplays for literacy and construction. His screen adaptations of novelists L.P. Hartley and John Fowles (The Go-Between and The French Lieutenant’s Woman), and the resulting collaborations with film directors (Joseph Losey and Karel Reisz, in 1970 and 1980, respectively), offered a selfless, collaborative, very British corrective to Auteur-theory machismo during film’s most director-centric golden age.

Jude Ciccolella and Jason Downs in Pacific Resident Theatre's THE HOMECOMING.

But. BUT. And this has to be remembered if only because it’s so funny: Pinter also adapted, or vandalized, Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 play (and ’72 screenplay) Sleuth into one of the worst film remakes of all colossal unending cinematic time. That 2007 disaster (if you haven’t seen the worst movie Kenneth Branagh has ever directed – think about that – you should get some tequila and spare a couple hours) was also Pinter’s last new work to be presented before his death. No, it’s not sad; sobering maybe; no, not even. FUNNY. I’ll bet Pinter laughed.

Trent Dawson, Steve Spiro, Lesley Fera, and Jason Downs in Pacific Resident Theatre's THE HOMECOMING.

It would be an irony of Pinterian proportions if this author were remembered for one astoundingly inept movie, but of course nobody remembers who wrote movies, good or bad. Moreover I’ve done more mentioning of that movie in the previous paragraph than anyone else has done in seven years, and no one reads theater reviews. So. Pinter’s safe. His is going to be one of those names that gets bigger in the centuries following his death, whatever happens to theater. I think that as long as people read English they’re going to study Pinter. The Nobel doesn’t hurt, though when’s the last time you read a Sinclair Lewis or John Galsworthy novel, or staged a Dario Fo play outside a conservatory program? So who knows.

Jason Downs and Lesley Fera in Pacific Resident Theatre's THE HOMECOMING.His estate’s doing a pretty good job of curating the legacy, such that you don’t see a huge number of the prime Pinters lamely staged. At Pacific Resident Theatre, Marilyn Fox has got hold of the rights to 1965’s The Homecoming and handed the reins to producer Elspeth A. Weingarten and director Guillermo Cienfuegos, and that’s the exact right way to keep the name of Pinter on the lips of the people who should be saying “Pinter.” Like me.

Philosophy professor Teddy (Trent Dawson) brings his wife of six years and mother of his three boys Ruth (Lesley Fera) home to meet his estranged blue-collar family: father Max (Jude Ciccolella) was a butcher, uncle Sam (Anthony Foux) is a chauffeur, and brothers Lenny (Jason Downs) and Joey (Steve Spiro) are a violent pimp and a rapist boxer. Before the happy couple gets to the old homestead, we see a snakes’ nest boiling over with potential hospitality. But the worst thing that happens when they arrive may be the very opposite of the horror you’d expect. Because real shocks, like laughs, come from surprise, you will find more of both here than in some entertainments billing themselves as horrorshows or comedies. If the subversive language doesn’t get you, the subversive themes and storyline will. If you haven’t read it since college, don’t. Just come to Venice right away. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Jude Ciccolella (in chair) and Jason Downs in Pacific Resident Theatre's THE HOMECOMING.Cienfuegos uses Norman Scott’s clean, spare living-room boxing-ring of a set and coy, just-enough-to-see lighting to arrange bodies for declamation, intimidation, obfuscation, revelation. It’s almost as fine a play to watch as to listen to, but given the director’s excellent casting and work with actors (and of course the vivid script) it’s about the words, really, as it should be.

Or is it. It’s a very physical play, and those aforementioned bodies do much of Pinter’s work here, particularly Fera’s coolly dominant legs and eyes; then of course Ciccolella’s adamant fists and belly, and the quiet impudence of Foux’s understated exclamation point of a frame…not to mention Spiro’s reticent, hulking shoulders, Dawson’s stick-up-the-arse spine, and Downs’ entire insidious presence, which oozes and thumps and creaks: whatever’s worst, whatever’s needed. The whole show is like this, Pinter and Cienfuegos within the boundaries of their own hideous rules using whatever tactic will work to win.

Anthony Foux, Jason Downs, Jude Ciccolella, Trent Dawson, and Lesley Fera in Pacific Resident Theatre's THE HOMECOMING.

And it does win. This is a show that defeats its audience, taking from you what you think is your philosophical position and pretzel-crushing it and handing it back to you in such a form that you drop it in disgust, and when it scurries and mewls you stomp on it and admit defeat in a voice breaking with anxiety at the very thought you ever had such ideas. And what, really, is theater for but that? The musical that doesn’t do that, the children’s show that doesn’t do that, the improv-games or sketch-comedy evening that doesn’t change your mind about something you were sure of: what is it for?

photos by Ashley Boxler and Erika Boxler

The Homecoming
Pacific Resident Theatre
703 Venice Boulevard in Venice
scheduled to end on July 26, 2015
EXTENDED to October 4, 2015
for tickets, call (310) 822-8392 or visit www.PacificResidentTheatre.com

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