Cort Theatre, New York
Daniel Sullivan's Broadway revival to mark this play's 40th anniversary shows London what it is missing. Eve Best in the part of Ruth gives a beautifully nuanced performance that may well enable her to repeat the three New York awards that she won playing opposite Kevin Spacey in Moon for the Misbegotten. She deserves to turn the Tony nomination for that performance into the real thing this time as well.
The cast on this occasion is half English, with Miss Best as Ruth joined by popular screen personality Ian McShane and The Tudors' James Frain for the visiting team.
The best support for the lady in a strong ensemble comes from Raúl Esparza, and that is saying something. He has to fight an accent that veers between American, Cockney, RP and even Australian and overcomes it. He looks the part of Lenny, Ruth's seedy brother in law, and balances menace and lewd comedy extremely well.
He it is that first comes upon the interloping woman, of whom the family is unaware, when her husband brings her home for a first visit. Frain's golden boy, Teddy, is a philosophy professor in the United States and has the perfect life - intellectual challenge, sun, a beautiful wife and three children. However, by the time that the family has finished with him, he is a defeated if still amiable man.
They are a funny lot, perhaps made so by the lack of a mother figure. McShane's Max rules ineffectually with a walking stick rather than a rod of iron. Michael McKean is Sam, his brother, a man who is supposed to bolster Max's ego. He manfully does so before delivering a startling revelation, as he expires on the dirty floor of a suitably shabby and cut-down, post-war living room set, designed by Eugene Lee.
The two older men are mirrored by brash Lenny and his other brother, would-be boxer and experienced loser, the backward Joey (Gareth Axe).
The journey of each of these limited people is remarkable. The men will sacrifice anything for female company, both spiritual and sexual, while Ruth is willing to be prostituted to gain control of her own and their lives. This is gripping stuff, especially after the interval of a two hour production. Having developed the set-up in true Pinter style, the playwright then allows a strange logic to drive the action to an unexpected conclusion.
It will be interesting to see whether Broadway is willing to embrace a play that is so far from where it now normally seeks its kicks. Not only is this not a musical, it is not even a light comedy or easily digested.
One can only hope that a new audience is drawn to the theatre and that they demand more top class acting in demanding dramas. London gets its own version at the Almeida next month but, sadly, without Miss Best.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher