The time-worn 1960s London residence where Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming" takes place contains a family that puts the "dys-" in dysfunctional. A surprise visit by a long-absent son with a wife no one knows about merely causes the already claustrophobic world to close in more tightly, threatening everyone under the roof, one way or another.
The 1965 play, which has been given a thoughtful, generally impressive production by Center Stage, can still provoke, confuse and offend — and amuse, for that matter. There's nothing quite like Pinter's dark sense of humor as he cuts to the bone in search of honesty. The way he exposes characters in "The Homecoming" still seems radical; the way that process then makes us confront things about ourselves remains just as startling.
Irene Lewis, directing her final production and first Pinter play for Center Stage after two decades, may not have uncovered great secrets in this tale of familial resentment, sexual repression and exploitation, condescension and fear. But she guides her accomplished cast with a sure hand. And almost all of the famous "Pinter Pauses" that break up the dialogue produce telling effects of their own.
As the patriarch Max, who calls his sons "bitches" and his daughter-in-law "a stinking pox-ridden slut" (until her marketability dawns on him), Jarlath Conroy provides an arresting anchor for the production. He's an incisive actor, capable of turning on each of Pinter's slippery dimes in disarmingly natural fashion.
Steven Epp gives a finely shaded performance as Max's oldest son Teddy, the college philosophy professor who went to America with a beautiful bride and now finds himself alternately pleading for acceptance and regretting his return. When Teddy's world has been strangely turned on its head, Epp's vacant stare emits a simmering power.
Felicity Jones subtly captures the sexual power and strange moral vacuity of Teddy's wife Ruth, who has a past that may come in handy as she adjusts to the house of Max. There are colorful contributions from Trent Dawson as the slimy Lenny and Sebastian Naskaris as Joey, a budding boxer who clearly has taken one too many on the chin. Laurence O'Dwyer does sympathetic work as Sam, Max's abused brother, who tries to keep his head down, his feelings checked.
The set (Riccardo Hernandez) and costumes (Catherine Zuber) are spot-on, as is Mark McCullough's astute lighting.
"The Homecoming" may leave you stimulated, annoyed, maybe just drained. But, as the Center Stage production ably reiterates, it won't leave you indifferent.
If you go
"The Homecoming" runs through Feb. 20 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. $10-$55. 410-332-0033, centerstage.org.