The ghosts of great plays and legendary actors hover uneasily over “Home,” David Storey’s elegy for lost lives amid a lost country that is aging as painfully as its central characters. Its 1970 premiere starred John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, and one can imagine the bravura tragicomic lament they must have made of a rather mannered text.
David Leveaux’s disappointing revival casts Paul Eddington and Richard Briers as Harry and Jack, two elderly men jointly inhabiting — we learn late in act one — a mental home. But it’s meant as no slight to Eddington’s beautiful performance to point out that whatever sense of occasion “Home” may once have had is now defeated by the play itself.
As a tone poem for two great voices, the first cast was surely the evening’s raison d’etre. Shorn of that added dimension, the play looks pale; it’s imitation Beckett or Pinter, without the ineffable mystery of the first or the menace of the second.
The first hour or so is primarily an elaborate tease, the payoff of which derives not from the language but from our discovery of the play’s setting. In Beckett, whose act one curtain line in “Waiting for Godot” is virtually repeated here, seeming inconsequentiality ripples with allusion and affect. As handled by Storey, the banter between his nattily dressed Vladimir and Estragon equivalents is simply that — amiable chat about the climate, dust and the fashionability of canes in which nothing much seems to be at stake. Only Vicki Mortimer’s gray backdrop, and the occasional darkening glance across Eddington’s always expressive face, provide a clue that these lives may be less jaunty than they seem.
And so it eventually proves, as the men are joined in their reveries by two women in the home, Kathleen (Rowena Cooper) and Marjorie (Brenda Bruce), and, still later, by a volatile younger inmate, Alfred (Jason Pitt), given to removing furniture from around them. Harry’s “little lapses” and Jack’s “little falls from grace” turn out, of course, to be of somewhat greater import, just as the apparent cheer of the ladies masks incontinence, attempted suicide and the feeling, as Marjorie makes clear, that they have indeed strayed far from home.
The edgier second half holds one’s interest, but Leveaux’s usually microscopic attention to mood seems dulled; his recent Almeida Theater “No Man’s Land” was far more acute about the trials of age and memory, with the result that the Pinteresque dimension to “Home” is almost entirely subordinated to a kooky sitcom populated by four would-be “characters.”
Briers’ presence doesn’t help; this popular TV actor appears more interested in being liked by the audience than in creating a performance. One need only compare his and Eddington’s second-act bursts of tears to see a fascinating contrast in thespian integrity.
Eddington was the linchpin of Leveaux’s “No Man’s Land,” and he is again here , stepping once more into Gielgud’s shoes. Fastidious to a fault except where the truth of his sorry life is concerned, his Harry is the pinched embodiment of pain unexpressed, of zestful bonhomie –“all aboard,” he says brightly, as they head off to eat — giving way to half-sentences and softly uttered “well”s.
While the evening around him mostly exists in another actor or writer’s shadow, this late-career peak in Eddington’s talent suggests that there’s no place like “Home.”