Let’s say you’ve decided to drop the word “Pinteresque” into cocktail conversation. What’s the right moment?
Well, it might work in place of “messed-” or “f*cked-up,” but only referring to people’s actions. No apparel, architecture, food or music—however grotesque—is sick enough to qualify. Only people are Pinteresque, and only in person, when they do or say the most shocking things possible.
So when do you bust out your new favorite word? At that record-skip moment when the party stops short because someone has completely lost control. “Well, that was Pinteresque,” you murmur to your date, as you and all the other sane guests tiptoe over the spilled punch, shattered glass, rutting couple, or dead man toward the door.
It’s this immediacy, this focus on the present, that’s drawn Imago Theatre—otherwise best-known for goodhearted, all-ages commedia clowning in Frogz and Big Little Things—into Harold Pinter’s more tortured reality, performing three of the British playwright’s works in a recent stretch, and currently The Homecoming, which opened over the weekend and continues through November 10. “”If you look at Frogz, there’s no past, no future. There’s only the moment,” Imago artistic director Jerry Mouawad has explained to The Oregonian.
Only the moment? Well, certainly the moments in The Homecoming are overwhelmingly potent. When patriarch Max (Douglas Mitchell) pitches red-faced tirades, sputtering epithets (bitch and more) about his late wife, and lashing out physically against his sons, it’s jarring enough—but when, in a flash, he re-composes himself into a grandfatherly, cajoling host, offering tea and compliments (with a side of sleaze), it’s actually scarier. Did he just say that, or did we imagine it? If he can “turn” that quickly, how long a lull do we have till he “turns” again? Doubting one’s own senses is the heart of dramatic suspense, whether it’s in a haunted house from a horror movie, or a family home on the outskirts of London, haunted by horrible memories.
The Homecoming‘s present, however intense, is made possible by an implied awful past. And according to Pinter himself, “The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.” The father, sons, and uncle who live together in The Homecoming drop frequent hints that incest, abuse, and infidelity are part of their shared past, and they’d have to be! How else could these characters possibly act so Pinteresque?!
Lenny (Jacob Coleman), a dapper scumbag, has locked his father Max in a permanent staredown, while his physically stronger but intellectually and emotionally softer brother Joey (Jim Vadala) struggles to speak, often shutting down and cowering in a corner. Their (gay? gigolo?) uncle Sam (Craig Rovere) acts breezy and cavalier, but when Max confronts him, he galvanizes into sudden steel.
The group’s behavior gets partially better, and ultimately worse, when two more characters are introduced: long-lost third brother Teddy (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin) and his wife, Ruth (Anne Sorce). A lady! Sam’s keen to make her comfortable, Joey’s instantly in love and Lenny in lust, and Max derides her as a filthy whore, then abruptly changes tack and welcomes her. Their reaction to their kinsman Teddy is far more blasé; after all, he’s just another man, and they’ve already overfilled that quota. Though their dialogue ends up probing some interesting philosophical dichotomies (UK versus US, academia versus working class), ultimately they drop these debates for the flesh-and-blood femininity in their midst.
Written in 1964, the year after the release of The Feminine Mystique, The Homecoming piles the odds against its sole female character even as it trains its full focus upon her. Ruth’s not merely under a lens here; she’s at the center of crosshairs. Anne Sorce, who may be the fiercest and most bewitching actress in Portland, remains equally beautiful and hard throughout this five-on-one territorial pissing match. Her performance earns a “Hot damn!”—but saying any more would give away the game.
The Homecoming, often lumped with other “comedies of menace,” is so powerfully sinister that writing it apparently blew Pinter’s own fuse. After The Homecoming, he announced he was “tired of menace,” and penned the more poetic Landscape and Silence. Also, according to Imago’s playbill notes, “Pinter himself disliked the term [Pinteresque] and found it meaningless”—which may seem messed-up, but probably explains his characters’ impulse to ride their ids all the way to the edge, and then try to soft-shoe back into good graces. However, as Thomas Wolfe had already famously observed, you can’t go home again.