The team behind last year’s hit production of ‘Henry V’ takes on Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s savage two-act play
By Michael Aushenker
Sometimes, you can’t go back home.
It’s a sentiment the Pacific Resident Theatre explores in staging “The Homecoming,” the 1965 play by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.
The Venice venue is, however, hoping to bring home another hit, as “The Homecoming” is being revived by Guillermo Cienfuegos, whose minimalist, unconventional staging of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V” at PRT in February 2014 was a runaway smash in L.A.’s theater circle that ran for five months.
“We never had more than one or two empty seats,” the director recalled.
As The Argonaut revealed last year, Guillermo Cienfuegos is a pseudonym of actor Alex Fernandez, whose credits include “Mistresses,” “Modern Family,” “Desperate Housewives,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds” and the movie “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”
Fernandez transcribes his feel for working with fellow actors to his role in the director’s chair.
Set in North London, Pinter’s story of sexual tension and one-upmanship begins with a man bringing his American wife home to four male working-class relatives who vie for her attention.
“The way the dialogue is written, in the mouths of the actors it’s so intoxicating. Pinter’s voice is very clear. We tried to stay true to his voice,” Fernandez said.
PRT is reviving “The Homecoming” 50 years after its debut at the urging of company artistic director Marilyn Fox, who has been pursuing the rights for years, Fernandez said. Rights to Pinter’s plays — including “The Caretaker and his revered “The Birthday Party” — are difficult to obtain, but Fernandez believes the success of “Henry V,” for which he won the Ovation and the L.A. Drama Critics Award for directing, likely helped bring “The Homecoming” home.
“I don’t think it hurts that ‘Henry V’ was a big success,” he said.
Fernandez hopes Angelenos attend “The Homecoming” in equal numbers, as it hasn’t been produced in L.A. for more than a decade.
“It’s a powerful and hilarious play. The level of shock of uncomfortable laughter, you would think it was written yesterday. By its second act, it veers into the theater of the absurd,” he said.
Fernandez finds much in common between “The Homecoming” and “Henry V.”
“Shakespeare requires a great deal of text work — how most effectively to use the language. There’s no subtext. Pinter has a great deal of subtext, but it’s very verbal and they’re using their words as weapons,” he said.
The two require different approaches, however.
“‘Henry V’ was a much more muscular, kinetic production: fast moving, fast paced. Pinter, even though it’s a very fun comedy, as dark as it is, there’s a lot of stillness involved. Pinter is known for having written in pauses,” he said.
Leslie Fera, who previously played in PRT’s revival of “Pretty Little Liars,” portrays the sole female character in the testosterone-awash piece. And Fernandez admits to initial misgivings when Fox asked him to helm this production due to perceptions of misogyny.
“But this play is the opposite of the misogynist play; it’s a feminist play,” Fernandez said. “That’s what I think Pinter intended.”
Fernandez believes “The Homecoming” challenges the viewer: “The audience is going to have to strap themselves in and question if they can follow it.”
Meanwhile, the actor continues as Pablo Diaz on “Devious Maids,” plays FBI agent Mike Hernandez on “State of Affairs,” and also appeared on “The Mentalist” in 2015.
Topping everything, Fernandez has a role on the high-profile “True Detective,” playing Ventura County Sheriff James O’Neal opposite Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell. The HBO drama’s second season began last Sunday.
“The scripts are so well written that it makes it easy,” said Fernandez, who enjoyed working on writer-creator Nic Pizzolatto’s show. “It’s always really exciting to work with someone who so utterly knows what he wants and is creative without dictating, creating an environment that is very clear and letting us play within those boundaries,”
Fernandez is, of course, tight-lipped about the machinations of season two — set in Los Angeles with a plot unrelated to “True Detective” season one, which had a Louisiana Bayou backdrop and starred Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.
If Pizzolatto felt the weight of having to follow up last year’s very successful production with a new one, Fernandez says the “True Detective” showrunner did not express it.
“He’s the type of guy who knows that pressure is kind of a false thing. He still has to start from the beginning and tell
a story,” Fernandez said.
Kind of like Guillermo Cienfuegos, in fact.
“The Homecoming” runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 30 at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. $25 to $30. Call (310) 822-8392 or visit pacificresident-theatre.com.