PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Homecoming The Two Faces of Eve

By Harry Haun
17 Dec 2007

He gave his director the credit for getting him into the character: "It basically had an enormous amount to do with Dan Sullivan. I think he had, going in, a very clear idea of what he wants and who everyone was. He really let me find it in a way where I thought it was me finding it, but I think, between you and me, he was leading me by the nose."

In the role of the chauffeur/uncle, one degree removed from the ferocious in-fighting done by his brother and nephews, Michael McKean didn't come by his accent as felicitiously as John Normington did originally. "I worked on it," he 'fessed up quickly. "Years ago, I did a film — 'This Is Spinal Tap' — and we had a kinda South London accent. And my Broadway debut was in a play where I did three different accents — one upper class, then one Cockney and then one Brooklyn — that was called Accomplice, in 1990."

McKean enjoyed the rehearsal process on this play and found a connection between his character and the boxer brother, Joey (originated by Terence Rigby and reprised here by Gareth Saxe). "Right around the time we got into the theatre," he said, "I discovered a kinship with Joey. We didn't notice it at first. We had a couple of little bitty exchanges, but we began to realize that we were kinda the two innocents in the room. Joey was innocent, but also venal. I'm innocent but sorta sexless. So we had something that was bonding."

Saxe infected his British accent with an almost audible kind of ignorance, as befitted the thick-witted bruiser he played. "I spent six months in England once when my mother was on a teaching exchange, and I'm, basically, mimicking this guy I heard," he explained. "I really love this part. It goes from Marlon Brando in 'On the Waterfront' to Stan Laurel."

Rigby dropped by the theatre before the performance to extend his best wishes to lead producer Jeffrey Richards. The two of them go back to the original Broadway production when Richards was a go-fer for the then-lead producer Alexander H. Cohen.

According to Rigby, The Homecoming got off to a rocky start: "The notices in London were mysterious and noncommital. When we got to Boston, Elliot Norton gave us a rave, and we did a month there. Then, we came into New York, started previewing on my birthday, Jan. 2 — and opened to reviews that were universally poor, if not bad.

"Alexander Cohen called in Peter Hall and told him, 'You could be off in four days.' And Peter Hall said, 'Are you serious? Because if you are I can use my boys back in Stratford.' And Alex said to him, 'Now, look, you can't talk to me like that. You just directed a Broadway flop.' Peter said, 'Yes, I realize that, but I still can use these boys if you let them go.' Well, Alex backed off because he knew, the way producers know these things, that the Saturday Review's notice, which wasn't due out for a while, was a sensationally good one, so he was holding on for that to come out. And while he was waiting the Sunday Times decided to re-review The Homecoming, and it was a glowing report."

The upshot of these late-arriving reviews: 324 performances and four out of five Tonys.

The original production also got a rave from the freshman who was arts editor for the school paper at Wesleyan University — one Jeffrey Richards, now retired from reviewing shows he works on. "The Times, tomorrow, did it for me," he said, very satisfied. "I can't wait to call Harold Pinter in the morning and read him this New York Times review that we have gotten. Harold has been so supportive, and our cast just adores him."

This is Richards' second serving of Deep-Dish Dysfunctionia this season. He's also one of the producers of the critically cheered Steppenwolf import, August: Osage County.

"What I want to do now," he said, "is to invite the three guys in The Homecoming to take out the three daughters in August: Osage County. They'd have so much to talk about."

As it is, Deanna Dunagan, who plays August's rampaging matriarch (and will probably be Best's best Tony competitor this season), was present to give her thumps-up to Pinter's domestic turmoil. "It couldn't be anything better than this," she said of how she chose to spend her night off. "You kinda want to go home and crash, but how could you miss this?"

Yes, she related a lot to all of the cauldron-stirring that McShane does to keep his homefires burning. "My brother saw this play yesterday at the matinee, and he said to me, 'Max and Violet should get together.' I think that Ian and I have a similar task."

Dunagan admitted she is the kind of actress who reads reviews. "You bet. I'm a Gemini. I have to read reviews. We're thrilled — and even more thrilled the audiences every night react the way that they do. Really. But more than the reviews, we have the audience."

Anthony and Charlene Marshall headed the list of celebrity first-nighters. Guests of general manager Albert Poland, both said they enjoyed the show a lot and beamed radiantly all evening.

Also attending: Chris Noth (having wrapped the "Sex and the City" flick), Joan Rivers, Tyne Daly, F. Murray Abraham (who made his Broadway debut in The Man in the Glass Booth, under Pinter's direction, and was in the 20th anniversary production of The Homecoming), Richard Thomas, Richard Osterweil, Roundabout's Todd Haimes and Atlantic's Neil Pepe, superpublicist Nancy Seltzer, Rock 'n' Roll's on-stage-and-off husband and wife Brian Cox and Nicole Ansari, Cherry Jones and Sarah Paulson, producer Liz McCann, Anthony Edwards, Kimberley Guerrero of August, Zeljko Ivanek, Kathleen Marshall, Karen Mason (preparing her two Symphony Space shows, Karen Mason and Friends, for Dec. 22), Andrew McCarthy, Sam Rockwell, August director Anna D. Shaprio, producer-actress Tamara Tunie, The Met's Susan Graham, Annette O'Toole [McKean] and Marian Seldes.