While it lacks the political and theatrical significance of its 1970 premiere with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, David Storey’s “Home” still provides an opportunity for great actors to show how they can invest oblique characters with infinite color. Richard Easton and Philip Goodwin — joined later in the Williamstown Theater Festival production by Dana Ivey and Roberta Maxwell — demonstrate a lifetime of stage skills in support of a script that has diminished over time.
The metaphoric power of seeing the two theatrical knights in the original production symbolizing the doddering decline of the British Empire is impossible to duplicate in a 21st century production — as are the context of the state of the world at that time and in the past, and the way in which the British Empire figured in it.
Instead we are left with a bit of faux Godot, or poor man’s Pinter, full of ineffectual symbolism — and yet the play can still provide a masterclass in acting. The latter is more than enough to make auds leave the theater smiling after watching four great senior Olympians — five counting helmer Joseph Hardy — pull off an astounding feat of theatrical showmanship.
Harry (Goodwin) and Jack (Easton) are two elderly Brits who meet in a walled-in garden that has long lost its luster. In Tobin Ost’s fading stately setting the greenery has turned brown, a water fountain is nonfunctioning and there are just a pair of chairs and a small table to meet the needs of those who now call the place home.
But what is this place exactly? The first act suggests one thing, slightly sad but benign. The second reveals something else entirely and is far more disturbing. In either case it represents the final resting place for a quartet of folks who have lost their way, their place and their identities.
The audience only learns about the characters in bits and pieces in their sometimes stream-of-conscious chitchat. The men — the sensitive Harry and the more outgoing Jack — go on and on about the weather, the past and their lives. This seemingly inconsequential back-and-forth banter is kept aloft by the actors’ skills. When Easton explodes with delight at the single word “Beards!” you can see a man going back in time in his mind to a far grander era. Goodwin’s tiny and ever-varying emotional unraveling shows a once stiff upper lip losing control.
When Marjorie (Ivey) and Kathleen (Maxwell) join them midway through the first act, the production becomes a smashing doubles match of minutia and madness.
Ivey’s Marjorie is a figure of square shoulders and sensible shoes but her incontinence and false teeth betray her false assuredness. Maxwell’s Kathleen still sees herself as a coquettish delight and her prideful delusions elicit both laughs and ache.
Gradually, darker elements are revealed: a suicide attempt, a serious “fall from grace.” When Alfred (C.J. Wilson) arrives ominously on the scene it becomes clear all is not what it at first seems.
Perhaps with these esteemed North American actors, one can substitute Storey’s allegory of the fall of the British Empire for another country’s present-day decline. While it’s neither the playwright’s intent nor a perfect fit, the consideration makes the production richer — and brings it closer to home.