The Homecoming

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The Homecoming
TheHomecoming.jpg
1st edition (publ. Methuen & Co. Ltd.)
Written byHarold Pinter
CharactersTeddy
Lenny
Ruth
Sam
Joey
Max
Date premieredJune 3, 1965
Place premieredAldwych Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish
SubjectFamily
GenreDrama
SettingSummer. An old house in North London.
Official site
IBDB profile
 
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The Homecoming
TheHomecoming.jpg
1st edition (publ. Methuen & Co. Ltd.)
Written byHarold Pinter
CharactersTeddy
Lenny
Ruth
Sam
Joey
Max
Date premieredJune 3, 1965
Place premieredAldwych Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish
SubjectFamily
GenreDrama
SettingSummer. An old house in North London.
Official site
IBDB profile

The Homecoming is a two-act play written in 1964 by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter and it was first published in 1965. The original Broadway production won the 1967 Tony Award for Best Play and its 40th-anniversary Broadway production at the Cort Theatre was nominated for a 2008 Tony Award for "Best Revival of a Play".

Set in North London, the play has six characters. Five of these are men who are related to each other: Max, a retired butcher; his brother Sam, a chauffeur; and Max's three sons – Teddy, an expatriate American philosophy professor; Lenny, who appears to be a pimp; and Joey, a would-be boxer in training who works in demolition. There is one woman, Ruth, who is Teddy's wife. The play concerns Teddy's and Ruth's "homecoming," which has distinctly different symbolic and thematic implications.

Considering the play while surveying Pinter's career on the occasion of its 40-anniversary production at the Cort Theatre, in The New Yorker, the critic John Lahr wrote, "'The Homecoming' changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realized, could convey volumes."[1]

Characters[edit]

The characters who appear onstage are as follows:

Setting[edit]

The setting is an old house in North London during the summer. All of the scenes take place in the same large room, filled with various pieces of furniture. The shape of a square arch, no longer present, is visible. Beyond the room is a hallway and staircase to the upper floor, and the front door.

Plot[edit]

After having lived in the United States for several years, Teddy brings his wife, Ruth, home for the first time to meet his working-class family in North London, where he grew up and which she finds more familiar than their arid academic life in America.

Much sexual tension occurs as Ruth teases Teddy's brothers and father and the men taunt one another in an Oedipal game of oneupmanship[citation needed], resulting in Ruth's staying behind with Teddy's relatives as "one of the family" and Teddy returning home to America and their three sons without her.[2]

Act one[edit]

The play begins in the midst of what becomes an ongoing power struggle between the two more dominant men, the father, Max, and his middle son, Lenny. Max and the other men put down one another, expressing their "feelings of resentment," with Max feminizing his brother Sam, while, ironically, himself claiming to have himself "given birth" to his three sons.

Teddy arrives with his wife, Ruth. Teddy reveals that he married Ruth in London six years ago, and that the couple subsequently moved to America and had three sons during the six years prior to his returning to the family home to introduce her. Ruth's and Teddy's discomfort with each other, marked by her restless desire to go out exploring after he goes to bed and followed by her sexually suggestive first-time encounter with her brother-in-law Lenny, begins to expose that there are severe problems in the marriage. After a sexually-charged conversation between Lenny and Ruth, Ruth exits and Max, awakened by their voices, comes downstairs. Lenny does not mention Teddy's and Ruth's arrival at the house, and instead engages in more verbal sparring with Max. The scene ends in a blackout.

When the lights come up the scene has changed to the following morning. Max comes down to make breakfast for the clan and discovers, when Teddy and Ruth appear the next morning, that they've been there all night without his knowledge. Max is initially enraged, assuming that Ruth is a prostitute, but finally he understands that Ruth and Teddy have married and that she is his daughter in law. He appears to make some effort to reconcile with his son Teddy, as the act ends.

Act two[edit]

This act begins with the men's ritual of sharing the lighting of cigars, ending with Teddy's cigar going out, prematurely and symbolically (Lahr, Casebook 47–48). That is followed by Max's sentimental series of reminiscences of family life with Jessie and the "boys" and his experiences as a butcher. These reminiscences abruptly end with a cynical twist.

After Teddy's marriage to Ruth finally receives Max's blessing, Ruth lets her guard down, relaxes, and reveals some facts about her previous life before meeting Teddy. This leads Teddy abruptly to suggest their returning home to America immediately. Apparently, he knows something about her past history about which the audience (and his brothers) are just getting an inkling. That life begins to emerge and to become further recognizable to the other men, as soon as brother Lenny initiates dancing with her; he turns her over to brother Joey (said to have a good touch with the ladies), who begins to make out with her on the sofa. As Max and Teddy look on, Max tells Teddy that he doesn't need to be ashamed of Ruth's social status, and assures Teddy that he is a "broadminded" man. Max further asserts that Ruth is a woman of "quality" and "feeling". These remarks are punctuated by Joey and Ruth rolling off the couch onto the floor, still embracing.

Ruth takes command of the men, asking for food and drink, and the men attempt to satisfy her demands. Ruth goes upstairs for what they say later turns out to be a two-hour sexual interlude in bed with Joey, without going "the whole hog" (82); Lenny, whom the family considers an expert in sexual matters, labels her a "tease" (82); Joey insists that "sometimes" a man can be "satisfied" without "going any hog," suggesting that Ruth is good at this "game" too.

While Ruth is still upstairs, getting dressed but perhaps not getting ready for their trip back to America (contrary to Teddy's expectations), Lenny and the others reminisce about Lenny's and Joey's sexual exploits. By that time most of the "family" members (and the audience) have recognized Ruth to be unhappy in their marriage—except perhaps Teddy, who keeps insisting that she simply needs to "rest" but nevertheless appears willing to leave her there, and Sam. Max gets the idea that Ruth could come to live with the family, while she works part-time as a prostitute. The men discuss this plan in considerable detail, seeming half-joking to irritate Teddy, and half-serious. Max even suggests that Teddy could refer Americans he knows to Ruth when they visit London.

Ruth comes downstairs "dressed" and presumably ready to join Teddy, who is still waiting with his coat on and their packed suitcases. Teddy informs her of the family's proposal (without going into much detail about the prostitution part of it), and then offers her a choice to stay with the family or return to America with him. Ruth appears interested in the idea of staying, and begins to negotiate the terms of the arrangement. Teddy prepares to return to America without her. During this scene, Sam collapses onto the floor. After acknowledging the possibility that he has died and the inconvenience that would pose for them, the others mostly ignore him.

The final tableau vivant (96-98) depicts Ruth sitting, "relaxed in her chair," as if on a throne,[3] with Sam lying motionless on the floor, Joey, who has walked over to Ruth, placing his head in her lap, and Lenny, who stands looking on. Max, after repeatedly insisting that he is not an old man, and getting no reply from Ruth, who remains silent, Max beseeches her, "Kiss me"—the final words of the play—as Ruth just sits and "continues to touch JOEY's head, lightly", while Lenny still "stands, watching" (98). In this "resolution" of the play (its dénouement), what might happen later remains unresolved. Such lack of plot resolution and other ambiguities characterize most of Pinter's dramas (Merritt, Pinter in Play 1–4, 66–86, and throughout).

Symbolism and irony of title[edit]

In addition to the play being about Teddy's "homecoming," its ending suggests that another symbolic homecoming on a variety of levels is Ruth's. Symbolically, Ruth comes "home" to "herself" (rediscovers her previous identity prior to her marriage to Teddy)[3] and to this woman-less (motherless, wifeless, sister-in-lawless) family (Max, Lenny, Joey, and Sam), ironically, in the process, rendering her own family with Teddy similarly without (mother, wife, woman).[4]

By the end of the play, Ruth appears to have assumed the multiple roles of Jessie, the London family's missing wife and mother, the missing woman in their household ("mother/wife/whore"), while putting the American family of Ruth and Teddy in a parallel position, reversing the situation at the beginning of the play.[4] In that sense, the play recalls Edward's reversal of roles with the silent Matchseller in Pinter's 1959 play A Slight Ache, initially broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and similarly ironic plot and character role-reversals resulting from power struggles throughout many of Pinter's other plays (Merritt, Pinter in Play 101; Batty, About Pinter 39–41).

For many critics the missing wall in the house, "removed" after Jessie's death, symbolises the absent female influence.[5][6] After Teddy "comes home" with his wife, Ruth, Max invites her to remain in London. She agrees, in effect, to "come home" as the family's missing mother figure and possibly also a prostitute whom Lenny can pimp, hence filling in the gap created when "their mother died": "I've never had a whore under this roof before. Ever since your mother died" (58). Upon first seeing Ruth, Max believes that his eldest son, Teddy, has brought a "filthy scrubber" (like Jessie) into "my house" (57–58). A major irony of the play is that Max's apparent mistaken first assumption comes to appear accurate as they (and the audience) get to "know" Ruth better (65–76).[7]

Pinter's "Homecoming" is considered[by whom?] to be one of the best plays in Absurdist Theatre as it has been revived many times since its first premiere in London.

Critical response[edit]

A highly ambiguous, enigmatic, and (for some) even cryptic play, The Homecoming has been the subject of extensive critical debate for over forty years.[8] According to many critics, it exposes issues of sex and violence in a highly realistic yet aesthetically stylized manner.

Brantley and other contemporary critics now often regard as "perfection" the two-act plot structure of The Homecoming. But, in the 1960s, the play's earliest critics complained that it (like Pinter's other plays) was "plotless", as well as "meaningless" and "emotionless" (lacking character motivation), finding the play "puzzling" and not "understanding" that it might have a multiplicity of potential "meanings".[9]

Lahr considers The Homecoming to be

the last and best play of Pinter's fecund early period (1957–65). It is a culmination of the poetic ambiguities, the minimalism, and the linguistic tropes of his earlier major plays: "The Birthday Party" (1958), whose first production lasted only a week in London, though the play was seen by eleven million people when it was broadcast on TV in 1960, and "The Caretaker" (1960), an immediate international hit. "The Homecoming" is both a family romance and a turf war. ("Demolition Man")

The Homecoming directly challenges the place of "morals" in family life and puts their social value "under erasure" (in Derridean terms). Teddy's profession as an academic philosopher, which, he claims, enables him to "maintain . . . intellectual equilibrium"—

I'm the one who can see. That's why I write my critical works. [...] I can see what you do. It's the same as I do. But you're lost in it. You won't get me being . . . I won't be lost in it. (77–78)—

ironically raises basic philosophical questions about the nature of so-called "family values" and the "meaning" of "love" among family members (Lahr, Casebook; Merritt, Pinter in Play 90, 95–96, 194–96).

Occasionally, one finds critics of the play, aware of Pinter's reputation for ambiguity, questioning even Teddy's and Ruth's references to the fact of their "being married"; e.g., Sir Harold Hobson, as cited by Merritt (Pinter in Play 221–25): "Hobson's interpretation of Teddy as merely pretending to be Ruth's husband and a professor of philosophy enables him to rationalize the man's behavior toward his wife"; basing her viewpoint on a personal interview with Hobson, Merritt considers Hobson's review of the first production of the play, entitled "Pinter Minus the Moral", concluding: "although Hobson still describes The Homecoming as Pinter's 'cleverest play,' his judgment against the play's 'moral vacuum,' like his denial of Teddy and Ruth's marriage, suggests his personal distress at the portrayal of marriage and what Pinter has called the characters' misdirected 'love.' " (224). To deny that Teddy and Ruth are really married is a common refrain in responses to the play. Aside from their behavior in the play and that of Teddy's father and brothers toward them, nothing else in the text contradicts Teddy's and Ruth's claims that they are married and that they have three sons. The more outrageous Ruth's and his family's actions, the more Teddy protests that they are married, leading some critics to believe that the man doth protest too much, though perhaps they may do so too (Merritt, Pinter in Play 221–25).[9]

Continuing denial of the facts of Teddy's and Ruth's marriage and family may serve critics as a means of expressing their own rejection of what occurs in the play.[9] Alluding indirectly to this critical pattern, Brantley observes, however, that, in time, the play may appear more realistic and more relevant to the lives of theater audiences than it may have seemed when they themselves were younger or more naive about the nature of marriage and family life. To those with strong religious values, like Hobson, the play appears immoral. Yet, to others, its moral value resides in its very questioning of commonly accepted shibboleths about marriage and the family: "People who were originally put off by 'The Homecoming' may now find it too close to home. It's a bit like Picasso's shockingly severe painting of Gertrude Stein from 1906, the one he predicted in time would resemble its subject. We may not have thought we saw ourselves in 'The Homecoming' four decades ago. Now it feels like a mirror" (Brantley, "Theater Review: The Homecoming [Cort Theater]": E7). Other critics, like Lahr, remind their readers of the strong element of comedy in this play, as in many of Pinter's other plays ("Demolition Man").

Composition history[edit]

Pinter's home in Ambrose Place, Worthing, where he wrote The Homecoming

Pinter wrote The Homecoming in six weeks in 1964 from his home in the Sussex coastal town of Worthing, where according to theatre critic John Lahr, "the magnificent barrenness of the play’s North London setting was imagined as he sat at his writing desk overlooking gardens, within earshot of the sea." Pinter remarked that "it kind of wrote itself".[10]

Pinter's close friend and former schoolteacher, Joseph Brearley, was visiting Pinter after he had written the play. “I gave him the play to read,” Pinter recalled. “I waited in another room. About two hours later, I heard the front door slam. I thought, Well, here we are. He doesn’t like it. About an hour later, the doorbell rang. I answered it. He said, ‘I had to get some air.’ He said, ‘It is your best.’ ”[10]

Production history[edit]

Productions of the play have won major theater awards. For example, the 1967 New York production received four Tony Awards: the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (Paul Rogers), the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play (Ian Holm), the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play (Peter Hall), and the Tony Award for Best Play (Alexander H. Cohen, prod.). A film of the play, also entitled The Homecoming and also directed by Peter Hall, was released in 1973; part of the two-season subscription series American Film Theatre in the United States, it is available on both VHS and DVD and distributed by Kino on Video ("Collection Two" [DVD box set]).

List of selected productions[edit]

See also Harold Pinter#Since 2005

London première
Royal Shakespeare Company. Dir. Peter Hall. With Paul Rogers (Max), Ian Holm (Lenny), John Normington (Sam), Terence Rigby (Joey), Michael Bryant (Teddy), and Vivien Merchant (Ruth). Aldwych Theatre, London. Opened on 3 June 1965.[11] The pre-London tryouts opened at the New Theatre, Cardiff on 26 March 1965.[12]

New York première
"The first American production opened at The Music Box on 5 January 1967. With the exception of the part of Teddy, which was played by Michael Craig, the cast was as above".[11]

Radio broadcast
On 18 March 2007, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a new radio production of The Homecoming, directed by Thea Sharrock and produced by Martin J. Smith, with Pinter performing the role of Max (for the first time; he had previously played Lenny on stage in the 1960s), Michael Gambon as Max's brother Sam, Rupert Graves as Teddy, Samuel West as Lenny, James Alexandrou as Joey, and Gina McKee as Ruth (Martin J. Smith; West).

Broadway revival
The Tony Award-nominated 40th-anniversary Broadway revival of The Homecoming, starring James Frain as Teddy, Ian McShane as Max, Raul Esparza as Lenny, Michael McKean as Sam, Eve Best as Ruth, and Gareth Saxe as Joey, directed by Daniel Sullivan, and produced by Buddy Freitag,[13] opened on 16 December 2007, for a "20-week limited engagement" through 13 April 2008, at the Cort Theatre. It received Tony Award nominations for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actress in a Play (Eve Best) and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Raul Esparza). It also received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. [14]

Almeida revival
The Homecoming was also revived at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, London, from 31 January through 22 March 2008. The cast included Kenneth Cranham, Neil Dudgeon, Danny Dyer, Jenny Jules, and Nigel Lindsay.[15]

Others
Other recent and "upcoming events" (updated periodically), including many past, current, and future productions of The Homecoming, are listed on the home page of Pinter's official website and through its lefthand menu of links to the "Calendar" ("Worldwide Calendar").

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Demolition Man" ( December 24, 2007 ) The New Yorker
  2. ^ See John Russell Taylor, "Pinter's Game of Happy Families", 57–65 in Lahr, Casebook; cf. Franzblau and Esslin, The Peopled Wound and Pinter the Playwright.
  3. ^ a b Interviewed by Campbell Robertson, in "In Search of Her Inner Kangaroo Suit", The New York Times 24 Dec. 2007, The Arts: E1, 6, accessed 24 Dec. 2007, Eve Best, the actress playing Ruth in the 2007–2008 Cort Theatre production of The Homecoming, concludes: " 'This woman becomes the queen, and there hasn't been a struggle .... Simply by discovering herself, she has ultimate strength. I love that.' " [E6].
  4. ^ a b See Bernard F. Dukore, "A Woman's Place", and Augusta Walker, "Why the Lady Does It", 109–16 and 117–21 in Lahr, Casebook, respectively.
  5. ^ See also "A Designer's Approach: An Interview with John Bury, 27–35 in Lahr, Casebook. In his recent October 2007 interview remarks made to Lahr, published in "Demolition Man", Pinter points out that he considers The Homecoming his most "muscular" (masculine?) play.
  6. ^ http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/homecomingyork-rev
  7. ^ See the double-page illustration of the original set for the London production, by John Bury, in the front matter of the Lahrs' Casebook. In "Demolition Man", Lahr mentions that the 2007 New York set design is not vast enough to parallel the text's references to its being "a large room, extending the width of the stage."
  8. ^ Lahr, Casebook; Lahr, "Demolition Man"; Merritt, Pinter in Play xvii–xxvii, and throughout.
  9. ^ a b c Susan Merritt Elliott, "Critical Responses to the Puzzling World of Pinter", Chap. One (1–42), in "Fantasy behind Play: A Psychoanalytic Study of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, The Caretaker and The Homecoming", Diss. Indiana U, 1973, cited in Merritt, Pinter in Play 255–62.
  10. ^ a b http://www.johnlahr.com/pinter.html
  11. ^ a b Lahr, Casebook n. pag. [x].
  12. ^ Nightingale, Benedict (1965-03-27). "review: The Homecoming at Cardiff". The Guardian. p. 6. 
  13. ^ Simonson, Robert (2012-05-31). "Broadway Producer Edgar Freitag Is Dead at 80". Playbill.com. Retrieved 2012-06-17. 
  14. ^ "'The Homecoming' Awards and Nominations" IBDB.com
  15. ^ "Production details", The Homecoming at the Almeida Theatre (official webpage), accessed 16 Feb. 2008.

References[edit]

External links[edit]