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Stellar cast shines in North Coast Rep’s well-directed ‘The Homecoming’

The cast of "The Homecoming" at North Coast Rep
The cast of “The Homecoming” at North Coast Rep: (from left) Bruce Turk, Justin Gordon, Richard Baird, James Newcomb, Melanie Lora and Frank Corrado.
(Courtesy photo by Aaron Rumley)

‘The Homecoming’ is a return for North Coast Repertory Theatre, which had planned to produce the Tony Award-winning play in spring 2020 only to be waylaid by the COVID-19 shutdown

In the working-class London home of cantankerous old Max, his brother Sam, and Max’s two sons, Lenny and Joey, the toxic masculinity is suffocating. The oedipal intimations are rife. The physical absence of a woman is stark and disquieting.

Then Max’s third son, Teddy, shows up for the first time in six years, in the middle of the night. With him is his wife, Ruth, whose enigmatic stares pierce the darkness of the unlit downstairs. The uncomfortable family drama residing in Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” is just getting started.

“The Homecoming” is a return for North Coast Repertory Theatre as well, which had planned to produce the Tony Award-winning play in spring 2020 only to be waylaid by the COVID-19 shutdown. Now, Artistic Director David Ellenstein gets his chance, even directing some from the 2020 cast: Richard Baird as son Lenny, Bruce Turk as son Teddy, Justin Gordon as son Joey, and James Newcomb as Max’s brother Sam. They’re joined here by Frank Corrado as Max and Melanie Lora in her NCR debut as Ruth.

This staging of “The Homecoming” is a Pinter reunion for Corrado, who directed, and Baird, who starred, in North Coast Rep’s 2015 production of “The Betrayal.” The slow burns and ferocity of their clashes as Max and Lenny suggest they’ve got Pinter in their blood. Though the two central male characters of “The Homecoming” would appear the least alike on the surface, they share a moral vacancy but also creeping remnants from the past.

The oppressive all-male household aside, the story of “The Homecoming” is truly Ruth’s. Curiosity about her becomes an obsession, which becomes a climactic “proposal” that Pinter may have intended as inevitable, shocking or absurd. Which depends on one’s acceptance of “The Homecoming’s” motifs and symbolism. In any case, Ruth seizes in her quiet self-control all the power inside Max’s house, the men around her not realizing why or how they’re giving it away.

This is fertile ground for a cast as committed and well-directed as this one. Lora may have the least to say as Ruth, but she is intensity personified. Baird brings all of Lenny the pimp’s cunning deviance to the fore, hovering and moving about in finely tailored attire. Besides Gordon’s oafish physicality as would-be boxer Joey and Turk’s restrained handle on the bland academic Teddy, Corrado growls with resentment or explodes as Max the butcher (big surprise there).

Newcomb’s Sam is the outsider in the house, seemingly the only sympathetic figure. But Pinter has instilled this character, a prissy chauffeur, with enough ambiguity that he fits right in.

Though confrontational and unsettling, “The Homecoming” can elicit laughter at times if for no other reason than its sheer audacity. Teddy has the nerve to tell Ruth of his kin: “They’re very warm people, really. Very warm. They’re my family, not ogres.”

Cue the laughter.

‘The Homecoming’

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays (also 2 p.m. on March 23). Through March 27.

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

Tickets: $54-$65 (for mature audiences only)

Phone: (858) 481-1055

Online: northcoastrep.org

Coddon is a freelance writer.


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