“He is the reason I am in the theater,” Carey Perloff says of the late Harold Pinter.
Perloff, director of American Conservatory Theater since 1991, is at the helm of her company’s production opening next week of the Nobel laureate writer’s 1964 “The Homecoming,” which won a 1967 Tony Award for Best Play.
Describing it as “a most astonishing play, which will never feel dated,” Perloff says “The Homecoming” deals with “predatory creatures in the jungle, fierce, sexual, true and shocking” and shows that “human beings are mysterious and unknowable.”
Perloff, a Stanford student taking Martin Esslin’s class on theater of the absurd when she first encountered Pinter’s plays, was captivated by him immediately. She later directed Pinter plays in New York and had the honor of the playwright coming to see, and “approve,” her work.
Among Pinter’s best-known works are “The Birthday Party,” “Betrayal,” “Party Time,” “Mountain Language” and “Celebration.” Like those, “The Homecoming” is not lighthearted entertainment. It’s tough, demanding theater, said to have titillated, fascinated and outraged audiences — going “from the ordinary surface to the primal darkness of what lies beneath.”
The title refers to the homecoming, to London, of Teddy (played by Anthony Fusco in ACT’s production) and his wife, Ruth (René Augesen). A professor of philosophy in the U.S., Teddy seems to have little in common with the working-class relatives he left behind: a butcher, a driver, a pimp and a boxer. Besides the meeting of different worlds, conflicts also stem from past wrongs and resentments.
ACT’s cast also includes Jack Willis, Andrew Polk, Kenneth Welsh and Adam O’Byrne.
Perloff is not alone in her admiration for “The Homecoming.” New Yorker magazine critic John Lahr wrote: “It changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theater was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken.”
IF YOU GO
Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco
When: Opens March 3; 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. most Sundays; closes March 27
Tickets: $10 to $85
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org