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Thursday, July 28, 2011

HOME (1968 or 1971*)

British playwright & novelist David Storey built his rep in the Angry-Young-Men school of socially conscious, working-class drama, always with Lindsay Anderson helming on stage (THE CHANGING ROOM); on screen (THIS SPORTING LIFE/’63; or both (IN CELEBRATION/’75). HOME, also with Anderson, was something different, a verbal badminton game for two elderly gents, eventually joined by a mismatched pair of ladies and a slow-thinking hulk. It’s a plotless character study that idles away a morning in chat, than returns after lunch for a rematch, all on the grounds of a sanitarium of some sort. Of what, we never quite find out. A retirement home for elderly?, for mental decline?, a reformatory?, for criminal inclinations?, family abandonment?, or is everyone just waiting for Godot? Storey isn’t letting on. It’s intriguing, in theory, but Storey’s writing hasn’t really held up. And if much of his work now reads like Harold Pinter without the threatening undertow, this one sounds like Beckett-lite. Happily, the original production, reproduced here, was a triumph thanks to a brilliant casting idea that brought in two legendary Old Guard stars to tease out the pseudo-enigmatic dialogue. John Gielgud & Ralph Richardson bring such a limitless range of ‘humours’ to their characters, pricking each other’s egos with deflating comic nuance (seemingly teased out of thin air), wicked befuddlement (mostly Richardson), chilling despair (mostly Gielgud) and melancholy for an England that’s become hard to discern from their current vantage point.

*The production was apparently taped in ‘68, but the 1971 copyright probably means it aired after its B’way engagement.

DOUBLE-BILL: Mona Washbourne, who plays the limping lady-friend with the horse-laugh, can be seen at her best in another stage-to-screen hybrid, STEVIE/’78, where she’s mother to poet Stevie Smith, played by Glenda Jackson who’s also at her best.

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