THE HOMECOMING at American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco CA
Show #14 brought another visit to ACT in the heart of SF’s primary theatre district. I must admit that I always notice the heightened theatricality of ACT at their Geary Theatre home. They are one of the only theatrical venues in San Francisco that maintains a classic, tri-leveled theatre space, with stalls, mezzanine and balcony levels. I often feel a slight sense of vertigo going up to their third level balcony (‘cause that’s where the cheap seats are) and having to squint down at the actors on the stage. I also recall my one visit there when I sat on the main level – in the first row, in fact – and had a direct eyeline to the actors and their expressive performance of the epic play WAR MUSIC in April 2009.
This time, I was there for THE HOMECOMING, a classic play by Harold Pinter. ACT’s artistic director, Cary Perloff, has been very expressive about her love of Pinter’s work. A carefully staged photograph of her working with Pinter himself in the early 1990’s is featured in the current ACT program, and Perloff says that she has been looking for a Pinter project to do since his passing in late 2008. She chose this play for their company member Rene Augesen, a versatile actress who has the pleasant problem of playing most of ACT’s female roles, as she is the only female core company member. Indeed, in THE HOMECOMING, Augesen tackles the showy role of Ruth, an enigmatic visitor to a testosterone filled North London house.
I loved the stylistic choices and nuances of this production. Both acts opened with sinister, macabre pieces of jazz music, setting the stage for the unease that was to come. The Pinter Pauses were respected and enhanced throughout the show. The direction clearly played to the stage’s advantages, with several careful tableaus etched in my memory. In particular, usage of chairs on the stage showed an attention to detail and curiosity about which character aligned or interacted the most with another.
The character choices were left wide open to debate and interpretation. The sole female character, Ruth, for example, is a woman of few words. I would dare say that her choices speak greater than her words. The patriarchal figure, Max, is prone to bellowing, but shows a softer and more inquisitive side in Act 2. That reminds me… I felt that Act 2 actually IMPROVED on Act 1 here, which I can’t say always happens in theatrical productions. The characters and/or staging seemed more engaged and layered. The aesthetic remained spare, with minimal underscoring during the scenes and actions speaking louder than words. The story could continue after the curtain went down, and it’s no surprise that Pinter continued to explore similar themes of manipulation and surprise in many of his later works.