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Something's Missing from "Home"

Larry Keith, Cynthia Darlow, Simon Jones and Cynthia Harris. Photo by Stephen Kucken

Directed by Scott Alan Evans, Written by David Storey
The Actors Company Theatre
Theatre Row's Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd St. between 9th and 10th avenues
Opened Dec. 7, 2006
Mon 7:30 p.m., Wed. thru Fri. 7:30 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$20, (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com
Closes Dec. 23, 2006

Reviewed by Lucy Komisar

Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons

Reviewed by Lucy Komisar Dec. 6, 2006.
In this gem of a play, thing are not what they seem, and what appears normal shares defining characteristics with what appears odd and eccentric. It shows how dissembling can be what middle and working class appearances communicate to onlookers.

British playwright David Storey's work, directed with subtlety and sympathy by Scott Alan Evans, opens with Jack (Simon Jones) and Harry (Larry Keith), two middle-aged British men in spiffy vested suits, sitting on a bench before a fastidiously-manicured hedge. Harry has carefully placed his fine leather gloves atop a sporty Fedora on the white wrought-iron table; Jack carries an elegantly turned walking stick. They chat about the army, sports, family, and "Little England," all quite normally, except that their phrases are fragments, often monosyllables, and don't make up a continuing conversation. It's as if they were remembering snippets of past lives.

The men get up to take a stroll, and soon their places are taken by two working-class women, both rather unfashionable in dress and demeanor. Marjorie (Cynthia Harris) wears a cardigan and glassy-eyed expression and carries a red umbrella, and Kathleen (Cynthia Darlow) has odd too-tight shoes and a marked Cockney accent. Their conversation is gloomy; they view the world as hostile. When the men reappear, one of the women addresses them as "Lordship" and "professor."

Chatting amongst themselves, the four speak in bits of sentences and interrupt each other. Marjorie orders the others about. Jack is polished and urbane, but exhibits no emotion; Harry conveys deep sadness. Kathleen giggles at references that she sees as sexual, especially the word "little." The men exude optimism, the women see the dark side. But they are the realists. Marjorie, with the umbrella, expects rain, and later we hear thunder.

The interaction among the four and their remarks about shared experiences slowly makes one aware that their worlds are closer than we had imagined: they live in a mental institution.

Playwright Storey was born 1933 in Yorkshire, the third son of a coal miner who spent 40 years at the coalface so that he could give his sons higher education. A sense of class is very much part of Storey's sensibility. "Home," which opened on Broadway in 1970 when Storey was 37, appears to be a subtle exploration of England's class divisions within the constraints of a place that could be an allegory for "Little England."

The acting by The Actors Company Theatre members is superb. Simon is gentle and intelligent as Jack, offering a hint of the man he once was. Larry Keith is wistfully sad as Harry, harkening back to a life he only half recalls. Cynthia Harris is blustery as Marjorie in a way that only half hides her insecurity, and Cynthia Darlow brings out the raucousness of Kathleen that is a cover for confusion and suffering. A fifth character, Albert (Ron McClary), who seems utterly disconnected from the world, arrives to carry off the wrought-iron furniture piece by piece, a bizarre action which the others take in stride. Their lack of condemnation or anger at someone a lot more mentally unstable than they are shows a sympathy that the larger crueler society might emulate.

Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 8, 2006
The Actors Company's production of David Storey's "Home" has just about everything one could want in theater – an excellent cast, capable direction by Scott Alan Evans and a simple but pleasing set (a park with neatly pruned hedges and a wrought iron table and chairs) by Mimi Lien. But somehow the play doesn't make an impression.

The problem is mostly in the script. Storey certainly knows how to write beautiful dialogue. What's all the more remarkable, his characters seldom say more than a few words at a time and they keep repeating what they do say. The conversation, for the most part, goes round and round in circles. But the result is a staccato rhythm that borders on the poetic.

Simon Jones and Cynthia Harris. Photo by Stephen Kucken

Like many British playwrights, Storey definitely knows how to use the English language. However, one could search a long time looking for a story line. In fact "Home" would hardly have any interest at all if it weren't for a certain element of surprise that gives one an "aha, why didn't I get it" moment. This is engaging until it gets tiring.

What there is of a plot centers on four aging people who meet in the park and pass the time in idle conversation. Harry (Larry Keith) and Jack (Simon Jones) are very proper English gentlemen with very proper conversation filled with "Oh dear" and "really?" They talk about the weather, the past, people they've taken notice of recently and other banalities.

It's not until two feisty and eccentric ladies, Marjorie (Cynthia Harris) and Kathleen (Cynthia Darlow), join the two men that it becomes obvious something is not quite right.

From that point on the play takes an entirely different direction. The banter is faster, funnier and also much sadder. But it doesn't go anywhere. And once the adjustment is made to the new reality onstage, the novelty wears off.

There's nothing in "Home" to dislike. And there certainly is some value in just watching such venerable actors as Darlow ("Rabbit Hole)" and Keith ("Caroline or Change") onstage. Especially if you can keep awake until the end.


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