A "homecoming" may invoke images of warmth and tears, a thanksgiving dinner perhaps, family members reunited after too, too much time. In Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, the title is facetious, as are any niceties that may be uttered by family members in this brutal nasty household.
Funny-peculiar -- and moreover funny-spooky, surreal and unsettling, The Homecoming, opened on Wednesday at the American Conservatory Theater. The production is riveting -- even though the audience really didn't know when to laugh; everything is funny. And nothing is.
What makes Pinter's play absurdist -- and not tragic -- is the way in which things slip from bad to worse, how plausible meanness slides into blasé bizarreness.
Nobody really rips one another to shreds; no one busts the fourth wall of decorum, verbal decorum that is. But when dear old dad reunites with his long absent son, when brothers gather together, the family kills with a menacing kindness. Even endearments -- "dear dad" and "my son" are spoken with a dripping, hateful sarcasm.
Written in 1964, the play seems to mock domestic dramas where the past haunts the present, like Long Day's Journey in Night. It seems to parody the unexpected cruelty of a play like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which was staged two years earlier. Indeed, Pinter's Max and Lenny and Teddy and Joey make Albee's George and Martha look like a happily married couple.