“Home” a gem of a play about class in England

Story is played out by inhabitants of a mental asylum

By Lucy Komisar

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.

Home. Written by David Storey. Directed by Scott Alan Evans. Set by David Toser. Costumes by Mimi Lien. Starring Cynthia Darlow, Cynthia Harris, Simon Jones, Larry Keith, Ron McClary,

The Actors Company at Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42 St. Mon, Wed-Fri 7:30pm; Sat 2pm, 8pm; Sun 3pm. Through Dec. 23, 2006. $20. 212-279-4200. http://www.tactnyc.org/.

Photos by Stephen Kucken.

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