For writers and actors of a certain age, the cultural revolution known as the 1960s begins in 1958. That year saw the premiere of The Birthday Party, the play perhaps most responsible for crystalizing its generation’s disenchantment with, and distrust of language in the elliptical ambiguities, pregnant pauses, paradoxical contradictions and ironic sense of menace that quickly earned the adjective “Pinteresque.”
And while Harold Pinter productions have become rarer in recent years — particularly in Los Angeles — the playwright’s casual savageries continue to echo in the work of Brits like Mark Ravenhill, Philip Ridley and Conor McPherson, and remain firmly imprinted in the artistic DNA of Americans like Neil LaBute and Tracy Letts.
Still, nobody does Pinter like Pinter. Which is perhaps why director Guillermo Cienfuegos’s remarkably accomplished revival of 1965’s The Homecoming, now playing at Pacific Resident Theater, comes with such a welcome sense of reuniting with a mischievous but dearly missed old friend. And it doesn’t hurt that this old friend has turned up in the company of such a finely tuned and exquisitely thoroughbred ensemble.
Like its title suggests, the play concerns the surprise home visit (on lighting designer Norman Scott’s neglected living room set) of Teddy (Trent Dawson), a North London-born professor of philosophy, who has been teaching in America. With him is his British wife Ruth (Lesley Fera) who he has brought to introduce to his somewhat loutishly lumpen family of vicious misogynists — a violently feral pack of men whose favorite pastime is the continuous testing and reaffirmation of a pecking order based in part on earning power but mostly on intimidation, humiliation and abuse.
At the top is Teddy’s brother Lenny (Jason Downs), a leering, insolently louche pimp of high-class whores in Soho; at the bottom is the family’s self-deluding widower-patriarch Max (Jude Ciccolella), a former bully who now exists in a perpetual state of emasculated, impotent rage. In-between are Teddy’s uncle Sam (Anthony Foux), a fastidious chauffeur of suspect sexuality and Joey (Steve Spiro), a lunkheaded laborer and would-be boxer.
But the hallmark of any Pinter from this period is that the “play” isn’t found so much in what passes for plot or even in the contempt underlying its dialogue. Rather, it exists between the words. And the key performance in this case is that of Fera. Her wonderful air of patronizing weariness in her scenes with Dawson so effortlessly conjures the devastating specter of the couple’s emotionally sterile marriage and existence of withering collegiate respectability in the U.S. that it suddenly makes probable the seemingly unthinkable choice she makes that turns the household on its head.
The production is by no means perfect. Cienfuegos pointlessly undercuts the classical precision of his staging with some superfluously ironic and overly cloying interstitial music, and Ciccolella sometimes allows his innate charm to get the better of Max’s petty and panicking ruthlessness. But such quibbles are far from wounding and hardly detract from what clocks in as a near-definitive Homecoming.
Pacific Resident Theater, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 26. (310) 822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com