(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

By the time that The Homecoming opened in London in 1965, Pinter’s career as a major playwright had been firmly established. His name was synonymous with contemporary theater, and the public had grown accustomed to his style. In addition, by this time The Caretaker had been filmed, his screenplay of The Servant was in production, and his early plays were being revived at major theaters in England and abroad. The Homecoming would open in New York in 1967.

The play, in two acts, is deceptively realistic. Its themes of emotional blackmail and manipulation, of seduction and jealousy, are delivered in bizarre deadpan. The situation—an estranged son comes home to introduce his wife to his family—is cliché, and the painfully ordinary, middle-class set—with “a sideboard . . . a mirror . . . a radiogram”—appears to be nothing more than standard fare for a family drama. Yet Pinter’s version of this “homecoming” is anything but traditional, and what appears realistic quickly shifts into parody.

The father, Max, is an embittered old man, fawning when he seeks advantage, striking out when cornered, soured by the world. His brother Sam is an ineffectual hanger-on and a latent homosexual. Son Lenny is a vicious pimp; son Joey, a hopeless, fledgling boxer. Indeed, their ineffectiveness fuels their aggression.

Into this acrimonious, all-male household (Max’s wife died years before), Max’s eldest son, Teddy, introduces his wife, Ruth. Teddy is bookish, objective, a “specialist” uneasy outside his field. Ruth is more intuitive, cagey, hungry to restore sexual vitality to her life. Yet like her husband, she too can be coolly detached, calculating—a game player. Teddy, emotionally and intellectually isolated from the others, has lost touch with the basic needs of marriage—even with human relations—and finds himself literally...

(The entire section is 782 words.)