Some believe McLuhan; others think the medium destroys itself when it insists on being the message. Paula Vogel’s on the former side. The material of The Long Christmas Ride Home is all familiar, some from earlier Vogel works and some from every other dysfunctional-family drama you ever tuned in to. Though the script gives off quirky hints of autobiography, Vogel’s treatment of her substance is schematic too, with every flare-up pushed to its worst-case cliché end, and the family’s three screwed-up kids each taking on a tidy set of parental traits. Vogel’s partial redemption is a stylized treatment, half scripted and half from Mark Brokaw’s lushly spare production, that makes each fragment of the story fascinating in itself. Randy Graff and Mark Blum as the cross-purposed parents, Catherine Kellner and Enid Graham as their daughters, make up a clan that would be pure starshine if not for the inadequate, mush-dictioned actor in the key role of the son.
Better diction, but far less illumination, is available in David Jones’s revival of The Caretaker. Patrick Stewart, playing the untrustworthy tramp Davies as a set of leftover Shakespearean gestures, is as remote from the eerie, close-to-the-vest comedy on which the play thrives as Kyle MacLachlan’s bland lucidity is from the anguish of his impaired rescuer. Even Aidan Gillen, tolerably convincing as the hypotenuse of this turf-war triangle, is done in by his high, light voice, which removes all weight from the character’s menace. Pinter without undercurrents lacks both message and medium.