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Band of Brothers

Running Through Spite, Jealousy, Cuckoldry, and Other Sibling Rivalries

Graham Pilato snogs Nancy Flores.

By John Barry | Posted 1/28/2009

Critics, as Harold Pinter is quoted in the program notes to The Homecoming, "are a pretty unnecessary bunch of people. We don't need critics to tell the audience what to think." That's true with Pinter: When it clicks, it doesn't really require a critic to explain why. There's something visceral and essential about the way people deal with one another that's both funny and frightening, and a good Pinter production gets it right out there on stage. So think whatever you want, but this is one of those productions.

Set designer Darla Luke offers an idea of what's to come. The room itself--always a major Pinter player--looks like an average room at first, but then starts to disintegrate. The rear wall, after a few minutes, displays its cracks and crevasses. The armchair looks a little worn. Old newspapers are scattered around the room. The liquor cabinet looks like it's been raided. Somewhere between seedy and civilized, the set balances on the edge of chaos.

Under Barry Feinstein's direction, Homecoming's cast revels in that chaos, injecting Pinter's somewhat lugubrious premise--an alienated, intellectual professor returns to the bosom of his working-class roots--with a joyful romp through archetypes of male and female power struggle. What Feinstein comes up with is less of an inquiry into postwar alienation than a sense that, finally, the gang's all here.

The FPCT production rips through all barriers between these characters. In politesse, there's distance, but in awkwardness there's intimacy. After two hours, the awkwardness is so intimate that it feels natural. It's the ultimate challenge to believe, at first, the four men in this play are members of a family. There's brother Lenny (Bobby DeAngelo), the wannabe pimp, and the younger Joey (Graham Pilato). And there's the dad Max (J.R. Lyston), an obnoxious ex-butcher, and his brother, Sam (Denis Latkowski), the chauffeur. They're joined by Teddy (Richard Stover), the prodigal son who fled London's North End to find work as a philosophy professor in America.

At first, the man behind the wheel of this somewhat rickety car is Max, the grumpy paterfamilias. Lyston memorably plays Max as a ruddy-faced, offensive, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed, long-winded, clueless, and inexplicably endearing lion in winter in one of the strongest performances this critic has seen in a while on a Baltimore stage. As his whining, pretentious, brother Sam, Latkowski is a perfect foil. These two actors have been on the same stage before, and it shows.

They're helped by a cast that, once the play gets rolling, easily slides into the typical Pinter household. DeAngelo injects an almost touching naiveté into the darkly brooding Lenny, the aspiring pimp who doesn't really know how to handle women. His in-your-face performance gives Homecoming a dose of venom, but doesn't leave out the comic touch. Pilato delivers his role as the younger brother Joey, a wannabe boxer who is a construction worker during the day, with affecting delicacy, especially as he starts to fall in love.

The object of everyone's fascination is Ruth (Nancy Flores), Teddy's wife. Pinter conceives Ruth as a woman who transforms from a nervous wife to a slut to a mother figure. Without losing a beat, the talented Flores slides in from one role to the next in a magnetic performance that takes the Madonna myth to the extreme. And as her proud husband, successful son, and ultimately, cuckold, FPCT president Stover delivers a fine performance that has Teddy gathering strength from humiliation.

And ultimately, humiliation is the bond that drives Homecoming, and with every cringe-inducing power-play, both Pinter's text and this cast becomes stronger. This production wasn't intended as a tribute--Pinter died on Dec. 24, 2008--but it does the job admirably.

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