The pith of Harold Pinter is in the subtext. Innocuous interchanges – about a pilfered cheese roll, a ticking clock, a piece of fried bread – take on layers of meaning and menace that transcend the infrastructure of text.
That is, given the right combination of director and actors. Together, they must dig in and do their homework in order to interpret this most challenging and rewarding of playwrights.
The stars certainly align in Pacific Resident Theatre’s current production of Pinter’s “The Homecoming” -- an optimum effort from all involved.
The action is set in a working-class English household in 1965, before the advent of the metrosexual male, for whom cooking and housekeeping hold no terrors. And indeed, Norman Scott’s grimily claustrophobic set, with its grubby Charlotte Perkins Gilman wallpaper, is a distinctively masculine milieu, untouched by a female hand for many years.
The ruling rooster of this grubby roost – or so he would like to think – is Max (Jude Ciccolella). Max is the viciously irascible patriarch of a thoroughly unsavory clan, which includes Max’s unmarried and possibly homosexual brother, Sam (Anthony Foux), and Max’s sons, punch-drunk aspiring boxer Joey (Steve Spiro) and scheming Lenny (Jason Downs), who apparently makes his living by covert and criminal methods.
A surprise visit of eldest son, Teddy (Trent Dawson), a philosophy professor now living in America, and his icily attractive wife, Ruth (Lesley Fera), violently upends the balance of this womanless household. Ruth quickly becomes the cynosure of desire – and loathing – for her in-laws, whose atavistic longing takes bizarre twists.
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos elicits multi-layered performances from his excellent actors, who, under his inspired tutelage, dig deep for their subterranean motivations.
However, the dapper Downs and the reserved Fera are particularly chilling standouts. Fera has the stone-faced quality of a carved Madonna, but her Ruth conceals depths of blithe depravity, while Downs' Lenny has the creepy impishness of a grown-up Peter Pan, always poised on the brink of mayhem.
“The Homecoming,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday. No performance July 4. Ends July 26. $25-$34. www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.