It is odd to find a character who is both ridiculous and threatening at the same time. But that’s what Harold Pinter gives us in Max, the tyrannical retired butcher who rules the roost in his seedy London home. To say that Max – played by prominent Bay Area actor Julian López-Morillas -- has a quick temper is an understatement.
Max: Who do you think I am, your mother? Eh? Honestly, they walk in here, every time of the day and night like bloody animals.
And he’s suspicious. When his oldest son shows up unannounced, and introduces his wife, whom the family has never met, Max lashes out.
Max: I’ve never had a whore under this roof before… ever since your mother died. Have you ever had a whore here? Has Lenny ever had a whore here?
The way the accusation is expressed is absurd – the audience titters. And yet the accusation is breathtakingly cruel as well. This is a family in which people try to dominate by lacerating others.
Max’s younger sons – also sinister – challenge their new sister-in-law repeatedly. Here, a simple offer to remove a glass of water flares into a fierce battle for domination and control.
Lenny: Just give me the glass.
Lenny: I’ll take it, then.
Ruth: If you take the glass, I’ll take you.
Lenny: How about me taking the glass without you taking me?
Ruth: Why don’t I just take you.
Lenny: You’re joking.
But she isn’t kidding – and notice how the long pauses in the conversation build the tension. Local professional Melinda Parrett delivers an icy, powerful performance, gradually turning the tables on all the men. Pinter is famous for writing this kind of “comedy of menace,” in which characters engage in domination and submission. The play’s enigmatic ending is both unsettling and cryptic – by design.
Be prepared to squirm a bit -- this is not a warm-and-fuzzy show. But you’ll ultimately come away impressed. This production is tough, uncompromising, and very well-executed, offering a deep look by a major playwright into the scary side of family life.
The Capital Stage production of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” continues through May 31st.