David Storey’s “Home” has been in deep storage for 35 years, its revival appeal curbed by the indelible memory of the 1971 Broadway production starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson as two duffers sitting in the English sun and amiably mulling over this and that. Resuscitated at last in a fastidious production helmed by Scott Alan Evans for the Actors Company Theater, this little gem emerges as something more substantial than a cozy vehicle for two beloved stars. With veterans Simon Jones and Larry Keith toplining a savvy cast, Storey’s subtle work reveals itself as a gentle elegy for the values of an old-world order that’s quietly sliding into the abyss.
The sun is out and shining benignly when two courtly gents in well-cut tweeds chance to meet while strolling in the park. In fact, the golden weather serves as the opening conversational gambit (“Nice to see the sun again”) as Harry (Keith) and Jack (Jones) settle themselves at a sparkling white lawn table with matching ornamental chairs. The scene (set by Mimi Lien) is so pretty and placid, with clipped hedges all around, we could be in some sheltered corner of Regent’s Park.
For a while, the friendly but formal exchanges between these two exquisitely polite men are sweetly amusing. Neither one manages to finish a sentence — or, indeed, a thought — as they natter about whatever pops into their heads, from the joys of fishing to their obviously fabricated war experiences. It’s all stuff and nonsense, these amiable pleasantries, utterly inconsequential and yet oddly moving in Storey’s tender treatment.
The banal content of the conversation is actually beside the point, since it’s not the talk but the talking, with all its comforting rituals, that matters to the two friends. “So rare, these days, to meet someone to whom one can actually talk,” Jack says, in a tone so plaintive it cuts to the heart. “One works. One looks around. One meets people. But very little communication takes place.”
Left to themselves, Harry and Jack spin the verbiage of their gentle jokes and unfinished anecdotes into a warm, protective cocoon that insulates them from whatever it is they don’t dare to speak aloud.
But this state of woolly contentment comes to an end when they are joined by Marjorie and Kathleen (no-nonsense gals in no-nonsense perfs from Cynthia Harris and Cynthia Darlow), whose vulgar accents and disheveled dress identify these women as being from another class. In fact, they are from another world entirely — the real one.
Descending on Jack and Harry with a familiarity that makes the men cringe, Marjorie and Kathleen destroy their defenses with blunt talk and clear vision. Having no use for euphemisms, these truth-tellers speak a coarse but honest language that cuts right through the delusional fiction that God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.
With great delicacy, Storey gradually strips away all the pretty fabrications he has constructed. Prodded by Marjorie and Kathleen, Jack and Harry sadly admit the soot in the air obscures the sun and the beautiful flower beds are only a handful of wild daisies. Even the lovely lawn furniture is revealed as a sham.
In their merciless insistence on seeing — and speaking of — reality, the two women ultimately force Harry and Jack to acknowledge the circumstances that have placed them in this park. Reality observed, the men break down. “Always crying, one of these two,” Kathleen dispassionately observes. “Call them the water babies, you ask me,” says Marjorie.
As charming as they were when Jack and Harry were playing happily at their games of fantasy, Jones and Keith are even more affecting when their characters stand exposed in all their emotional fragility. When the tall and stately Jones looks into the far-off distance, as if at some enchanting image of a lost world, his entire body expresses the longing in Jack’s soul. And when Harry springs to his defense (“My friend is a man of great sensibility and feeling”), Keith’s expression of concern speaks volumes.
Like Pinter, Storey uses pregnant pauses and deep silences to convey the truths that lie beneath the surface chit-chat. Here, the scribe is lucky to have two thesps who know how to play the silences.