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The Modern British Homecoming Play Albert Wertheim Many playwrights, both classic and modem, have made good use of tiie dramatic possibilities of one or more family members returning home after a period of absence. Indeed, one might well begin an analysis of Hamlet by considering the protagonist as a student who, following an extended period at the German university at Wittenberg, comes home to Denmark to leam the disastrous events that have taken place within his immediate family and in the Danish court while he has been away. Likewise, a discussion of Ibsen’s Ghosts might begin with the assertion that it is Oswald Alving’s homecoming play,l or O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra might be introduced in terms of Ezra Mannon’s homecoming.2 Sidney Kingsley’s The Silver Cord, Lillian Heilman’s Watch on the Rhine, Friedrich Durenmatt’s The Visit, and Sam Shepard’s Buried Child are further notable examples of homecoming plays from the modem repertoire. Perhaps taking their cue from T. S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion (1939), contemporary playwrights have made especi­ ally creative and dramatically effective use of the homecoming play as a distinct dramatic form. Eliot’s The Family Reunion seems, therefore, to have helped to define the outlines of the contemporary British homecoming play. In Eliot’s drama, an absent offspring returns to a tradi­ tional family and to a patriarchal house where he is forced either to rebel or to succumb to the strong family unit. Addi­ tionally, the play’s strong suggestion is that the family and the house associated with it are representative of a microcosm of society. But it is the malaise existing within the house that especially marks Eliot’s drama as a forerunner of more recent homecoming plays. Such an assertion finds strong support when one examines Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), David ALBERT WERTHEIM is Associate Dean for Research and Development at Indi­ ana University. He has published extensively on modem drama. 151 152 Comparative Drama Storey’s In Celebration (1969), and Peter Nichols’ Born in the Gardens (1979), three contemporary plays which use the homecoming motif for vastly different dramatic ends. The power of the family and the home is very much in the foreground and is immediately felt in The Family Reunion from the beginning of its first scene. The family is gathered at Wishwood , a house located in the North of England and characterized by its coldness in the present season. As the scene commences, the butler moves to draw the curtains, an act which will isolate the family from the exterior world and the light outside the confines of its interior space. Into Wishwood’s restricted and restrictive interior space—a space characterized by platitudes and attitudinizing—comes Harry, Lord Monchensey, who is plagued and nearly deranged by the guilt arising from the suicide or murder of his wife, a woman who had never achieved acceptance among the relatives whom the audience now sees on stage. The Family Reunion abounds in ritual, since it connects the celebration of the eightieth birthday party for Amy, the dowager Lady Monchensey, to her son Harry’s rites of repentance and expiation and to his search for transcendence. Harry, pursued, like Sophocles’ Orestes, by the Furies of guilt, returns to Wishwood in search of the shelter of his family, his family house, and his family traditions. As his conversation with his cousin Mary suggests, he has come back to Wishwood with the purpose of finding a cure for what ails him, for his guilt: Mary: You hoped for something, in coming back to Wishwood Or you would not have come. Harry: Whatever I hoped for Now that I am here I know I shall not find it. The instinct to return to the point of departure And start again as if nothing had happened, Isn’t that all folly? It’s like a hollow tree, Not there. Mary: But surely, what you say Only proves that you expected Wishwood To be your real self, to do something for you That you can only do for yourself. What you need to alter is something inside you Which you can change anywhere—here...


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