“Why don’t you shut up, you daft prat?” says Lenny (Jason Downs, resembling young Malcolm McDowell) to his father, Max (Jude Ciccolella), in Guillermo Cienfuegos’ top-flight revival of Harold Pinter’s 1965 comedy The Homecoming at Pacific Resident Theatre. He doesn’t say it in a moment of fury. It’s just part of the East London family’s nonchalant repartee, spoken while reading a newspaper on a sofa. Dad calls all of his sons “bitches.” He instantly insults his English daughter-in-law, Ruth (Lesley Fera), upon her arrival with her hubby, who is Max’s prodigal son/professor of philosophy (Trent Dawson), visiting from their U.S. home.
Max greets Ruth (whom he’s never before met) by calling her a whore and a tart, and she’s absolutely unruffled. In a monumentally subtle, enticing and erotic performance, her stone-faced response to much of this family’s perverted shenanigans comes laden with world-weariness. When enigmatic Ruth starts giving herself sexually to both of Teddy’s brothers (in front of Teddy’s nonplussed, glazed-over gaze), she’s redefined by Max as “a woman of quality.”
The words in Pinter’s masterwork sound absurd, and have been locked into the theater’s mid–20th century genre of absurdism, but they are really quite logical and vivid expressions of the collective unconscious — among a tribe that has been for years drinking a toxic brew of impotence and hubris as a response to the same kind of latent violence in the English ether that permeates Lopez’s Southern California environs. The play is an antecedent to American works ranging from the plays of David Mamet to August: Osage County.
Cienfuegos’ ensemble couldn’t be better. It includes Antony Foux as Max’s brother Sam, a fastidious taxi driver with questionable sexual predilections, and the third son, would-be boxer Joey, played with an impressive thick-skulled gormlessness by Steve Spiro.
Cienfuegos’ timing of the poetically crafted repartee is brisk and seamless. Norman Scott’s set design gives us a “home” with clashing wallpaper designs that are, even without the occupants, dispiriting, as are Christine Cover-Ferro’s midcentury costumes. This is an awful, typical home, in an awful, typical world, and, in a way that’s penetrating rather than glib, it’s awfully funny.
This Is a Man’s World, Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, downtown; through June 21. (213) 489-0994, thelatc.org.
The Homecoming, Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; through July 26. (310) 822-8392, pacificresidentheatre.com.