NEW YORK -

The Homecoming

has long served - in memory and in college courses - as the early defining Pinter play. Written in 1965 by Britain's greatest living playwright and a 2005 Nobel laureate, this sometimes mysterious, sometimes sinister drama created a whole new kind of dysfunctional family. So a major revival is always interesting, testing as it does the stamina of a classic.

And The Homecoming, now at the Cort Theatre, is looking a little winded.

The plot revolves around tyrannical Max (the craggy Ian McShane of TV's Deadwood), his two grown sons, and his bachelor brother, Sam (Michael McKean). Teddy (James Frain, he of the supercilious eyebrow), the older of the sons, arrives home in the middle of the night with his wife, Ruth (Eve Best).

We learn all kinds of ordinary-sounding things about Teddy and Ruth - he teaches philosophy at a California university, they have three boys - but they are laced with peculiarities: Why wasn't anyone in the family invited to the wedding nine years before? How was Ruth "different" then? Why won't she "sit down"? Who, exactly, was MacGregor? And so on.

The plot thickens when Ruth, silent and sexy, establishes herself as the locus of power of this violent household. Eve Best's icy, unsmiling performance - head turned away from the man speaking to her, red-nailed fingers daintily frozen in air over chair arms - refuses to yield any interpretation; deal with it, she seems to say. Pinter himself has said The Homecoming is both misogynist and feminist, a tantalizing notion.

The men are all aggressive: Max with his eternally outraged bluster and stick-bashing; namby-pamby Sam with his final spiteful secret-telling. Lenny, the gangster-pimp, is the most vicious, and Raul Esperza's performance in this difficult, juicy role lacks electricity. He talks a dangerous game, but doesn't convey enough danger or weirdness. His costume isn't slick enough (other than the vulgar, too-contemporary shoes) and his delivery isn't sly or threatening. As the youngest son, boxer-in-training Joey, Gareth Saxe conveys the yearning under the character's stupidity.

The first act sounds, surprisingly, like pure exposition - speeches that fill us in on information we need, but are awkward and tedious as plausible dialogue; the second act sounds, surprisingly, like subtext-turned-dialogue, but in this production that leaves the dialogue without a subtext - the indefinable current of meaning under what is audibly said - to support it.

Although every performance is estimable, nobody in this revival seems to quite "get" Pinter, including the director, Daniel Sullivan, who has locked the actors into an arm-dangling stolidity that seems a substitute for menacing stillness. The pauses aren't long and disconcerting enough, the silences aren't deep enough.

A major revival is always worth the seeing, and always - like homecomings - risks disappointment.

StartText

Written by Harold Pinter. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Set by Eugene Lee, costumes by Jess Goldstein, lighting by Kenneth Posner, sound by John Gromada.

Cast: Ian McShane (Max), Raul Esparza (Lenny), Eve Best (Ruth), Michael McKean (Sam), Gareth Saxe (Joey), James Frain (Teddy).

Playing at: Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., N.Y. Tickets $51.50-$98.50. Information: telecharge 800-432-7250.

EndText