Portrait of a family

Brüka Theatre presents an entertaining production of The Homecoming

The cast of Brüka Theatre’s <i>The Homecoming</i>.

The cast of Brüka Theatre’s The Homecoming.

Rated 4.0

From the moment the stage lights go up on Brüka Theatre’s The Homecoming, there’s a feeling that something about the battered old living room just isn’t right.

Maybe it’s the mirror, murky with the accumulated dust of what looks like years, or the dim claustrophobia of the small, repressive space. But as the play unfolds, the ambiance of the old family home doesn’t get any cozier. Brüka’s cast creates what is probably the most intensely charged environment on a local stage this season, delicately balancing humor and horror in this darkly excellent production.

The Homecoming, written by Harold Pinter, probes the depths of human interaction, family dysfunction and emotional imbalance.

In the run-down bachelor pad, four deeply disturbed men have lived together for decades in a state of perpetual hostility and with the ghosts of a scarred past. There’s the father, Max, a nasty, crafty, apoplectic old man who stews in the frustration of his memories and petulantly demands affection from the grown sons he abused as children. There’s the oldest son, Lenny, a smooth, small-time pimp whose every move carries an undertone of violence. There’s the youngest son, Joey, a demolition worker and aspiring boxer, who moves about the stage like a feral dog, all nervous twitch and shell-shocked aggression. And there’s Sam, the tired-eyed, gentle uncle, who manages to stay the sanest of the lot while bearing the brunt of his brother’s limitless hostility.

In the years since Max’s wife died, the men have settled into an uneasy peace, unquestioningly accepting their roles in the twisted mind game they play. The balance of this delicate ecosystem is shattered when long-lost son Teddy, a philosophy professor, returns unexpectedly for a visit with his new wife. The newlyweds aren’t models of emotional health themselves—Teddy is painfully insecure, while his wife is deeply and enigmatically disturbed. The household hasn’t seen a woman in years, and the absence is felt by its misogynistic inhabitants, who are reminiscent of some warped version of Peter Pan’s lost boys. To Teddy’s dismay, his wife falls all too easily into the role of a twisted Wendy as the situation veers into increasing depravity.

These characters aren’t easy to portray, yet the cast performs them with masterful humor, passion and control. Dave Anderson is outstanding as Max. He’s convincing as the elderly man, hobbling around on his cane, baring his teeth with a signature creepy grin, ranting and raving in fits of animated hyperbole matched only by Michael Grimm’s portrayal of Lenny. The two characters are intensely antagonistic, yet share many of the same traits and weaknesses, providing for some of the most intriguing interactions the play has to offer.

As the wife, Ruth, Hayley McCaw is presented with a challenging role. Her character has the surreal aura of a Freudian symbol, meant to represent what women in general mean to the men around her. McCaw plays the character like an animated doll, a dreamy and demonic mannequin who slides effortlessly from disturbed, frightened shyness into seething sexual power, in turn being manipulated by and manipulating the men, uncovering their vulnerabilities and laughing about it with one of the all-time creepiest giggles around.

As her husband, Teddy, Scott Beers almost asks to be victimized from the moment he walks in the door. Teddy’s lack of self-possession is a little puzzling in light of his apparent success in the outside world. We’re given no real glimpse of how he manages to survive or live a relatively normal life outside of the predatory grasp of his family, but this serves to heighten the growing surrealism of the play as a whole, as the dark nature of the family’s dynamics become eerily clear.