PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With James Frain

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With James Frain The treacherous tribe in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is an inscrutable one, but perhaps no character is as difficult to fathom as Teddy, the "homecomer" played by James Frain.
James Frain
James Frain

Teddy, a philosophy professor working in America, returns to his childhood home in North London after a nine-year absence expecting to be welcomed back into the bosom of his family. Instead, he finds his wife drawn into an extended bout of malevolent, cryptic gamesmanship, played expertly and with dark and obscure intent by his vile-minded father Max and predatory brothers Lenny and Joey. But rather than fleeing or fighting, Teddy coolly hangs back, spooling out his own sort of veiled, ambiguous behavior. The Homecoming is Frain's first stage role in five years, having been busy recently playing roles on "24" and "The Tudors." It is also his Broadway debut. Frain talked to Playbill.com about working in a play that he has admired since he was a teenager, and how it is both wonderful and painful.

Playbill.com: How did you become involved in this production?
James Frain: I just got a phone call from my agent. I think it was Jeffrey Richards, the producer, who knew my work somehow. He might have suggested it to Dan [Sullivan, the director] and Dan did a little research and it kind of came around that way.

Playbill.com: And you were interested in the project? JF: Hell, yeah.

Playbill.com: Had you ever done any Pinter before?
JF: No, but I've always loved The Homecoming since I was a teenager. I was introduced to the play by a writer friend of mine. It was his favorite play and, in fact, it was the play that inspired him to write. He lent me the play and it just blew me away and I've been fascinated with it ever since.

Playbill.com: What is it about the play that fascinates you?
JF: That's just such a difficult question to answer because it works on so many different layers. I'm still on stage every night, still fascinated by it, still trying to unravel it. In some way, it's like those Escher drawings with the stairways that never end. It's kind of like that. There's an endless sense of mystery about it. And yet, at the same time, it's a sitcom, and it's structure like an old classic, a drawing-room comedy. And yet it's this sort of mythic Greek tragedy family, while still being contemporary. It seems to combine all these different elements in a way that keeps it crackling and alive. And I think it's absolutely hilarious as well. Playbill.com: To me, your character, Teddy, is perhaps the hardest one to figure out.
JF: Yeah, me too. (Laughs.) A great deal of how this production came out has to do with [director] Dan Sullivan. From the get go, he had an idea about the way Pinter had been limited to a certain kind of sparse, minimalist way of playing. And so he was really aware of the importance of finding a consistent storyline for everyone that felt very familiar, even though it's not a naturalistic play. And then I found out by reading some of the press that's come out since then that Dan had talked with Pinter and that he'd gotten some more specific points across about what Teddy was about. I didn't know anything about that.

Playbill.com: Dan didn't share that with you?
JF: Well, Dan's directing style is very clever, very trusting. What he does is he gives you various hints along the way and then allows you to discover it in such a way that allows you to feel like you've done the work. But I suspect that all along he has a pretty good idea of what direction it's going. It's not that he's concealing it; it's that he doesn't overload you with information from the top.

Playbill.com: Since you read that news, have you asked Dan whether you could see that e-mail from Pinter?
JF: I haven't, but I think I should.

Playbill.com: Now I stirred up some trouble.
JF: The next time I see him I might ask him. But I think [the information] had to do with why someone would act like Teddy.

Playbill.com: For instance, why would Teddy return to such a household in the first place, known the character of its residents?
JF: Yeah. I'm not sure how thoroughly those questions were answered. I kind of feel that I came up with something that works for me. Going on how much Pinter ever says about his characters, I can't imagine that he gave Dan a full story. He probably just said more than he's every said before. It might only be a couple of sentences.

Playbill.com: Is there a part of the play that you particularly enjoy playing?
JF: Actually, I find it quite painful to play, especially the second act. I don't especially enjoy playing that. I almost dread it, because there's so much that…

Playbill.com: You have to sit back and watch all these terrible things happen with your wife.
JF: Yeah, and however much the hand Teddy is showing, I think there's a tremendous amount of rage and hatred that he's feeling. It's very uncomfortable sitting with that for an hour or so and not being able to express it, having to play this game. I expect in Teddy's mind, he considers it a tremendous weakness to show feeling. But, it's not terribly pleasurable to play.

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