I suspect that the most telling event in the theater of the second half of the twentieth century was the awarding of the 1969 Nobel Prize to Samuel Beckett rather than to, say, Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller. This gave the imprimatur of the Academy (and not just the Swedish one) to the kind of nearly-plotless, elliptical, almost impenetrable plays of Beckett, Ionesco, and the like. This was high art. What was everything else? Old-fashioned, I guess.
The very next year, 1970, David Storey premiered Home, which is essentially a Beckett play set in a specifically British location rather than in the undefined landscapes of most of Beckett's theater work. (I'm not implying cause-and-effect or opportunism here, since I'm sure that Storey's play was in the works before the Nobel was awarded; it was the tenor of the time, the hip style.) Storey had made his name in the early '60s with his novel and screenplay This Sporting Life, an exemplar of the working-class realism that was called "kitchen sink" drama. Home is not even in the same house as the kitchen sink. (Maybe that's why it takes place entirely out of doors.) Had Storey not already been well-known, I doubt that he could have gotten John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson to star in Home. And if Home were not carrying the cachet of those two icons of the British stage ever since then, I wonder how often it would be revived.
Does it have a plot? Hardly. Does it leave questions unanswered? Yes. Is the dialogue derivative? Yes. Is there any hope for the characters? Not really. Is the play therefore depressing? Not really. Does it have a point to make? I don't know. Does it hold your interest? Despite everything, yes. Is it worth seeing? In this production, yes.
Whatever suspense there is in the play lies in keeping you guessing as to where the four main characters are and what have they done to deserve being there. (I know this sounds kind of like No Exit, but the two plays are only slightly similar.) It opens with a long going-nowhere dialogue between Harry and Jack, a string of non-sequiturs and halting banter that is actually quite funny. Then enter Marjorie and Kathleen, a bawdier pair who are apparently from a lower class than Harry and Jack. The two men meet the two women, and they all eventually connect with each other in various ways. At the end of the first act, I was still wondering who these people were, where they were, why they were there, and were they even alive? Some of these questions, but not all, are answered in the second act. The less you know going in, the better.
This is an autumnal play about people nearing the ends of their lives (and the ends of their tethers). This is emphasized by the fall-colored leaves scattered on the floor. There is some symbolism regarding chairs, both in the script and in the interesting set design by Mary Rossman, but I'm not good at interpreting symbols. There is a more obvious bit of symbolism using the Union Jack at the very end of the play, when the lighting (well-designed by Brian McNamara) fades into dusk. It's no longer true that the sun never sets on the British Empire.
What you're really seeing this play for is the performances, nicely orchestrated by director Brian Hansen. Ray Orley (a stalwart of the Albuquerque theater scene) does a fine job of portraying the mysterious Harry and is very effective at crying silently. Colin Morgan, who is an Englishman in real life, is perfectly cast as the dapper but somewhat daffy gentleman Frank. Linda Williams and Jean Moran are appropriately raucous and uncouth, but display a tender side when called for. You have to pity Linda, whose poor feet are forced into shoes about five sizes too small. I wouldn't want to have to walk a mile in those. (Symbol alert.) Neil Faulconbridge, also from Britain, has a smaller role but with some heavy lifting involved.
The question remains for me: Why did the Vortex revive this play when there are so many new works to be discovered or older works to be rediscovered? Does the play have lasting merit, or is it more an artifact of the era in which it was written? I'm still not sure. Is it being mounted primarily to give some of the elder actors in town the opportunity to take on some meaty roles? That in itself is not a bad reason, and the director and cast of this production have made a compelling argument that it is reason enough. Sitting in a small theater and watching actors act is one of life's little pleasures. Better than staying home.
Home by David Storey, at the Vortex Theater, on Buena Vista just south of Central Ave, runs through November 6, 2011. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:00. All tickets $15. Reservations can be made at vortexabq.org.