Who says you can never go home again? In the case of Home, presented by Rep Stage which is in its 20th year, it is clear that returning home can bring a desirable outcome. Through its main character the play mirrors the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North in the 1950s and 60s and then a migration back to their Southern roots in the 70’s and beyond.
Home, a 1979 expressive and imaginative work written by Samm-Art Williams, was a Tony and Drama Desk Award nominee in 1981 when it was originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company. Under the superb direction of Duane Boutte, making his Maryland directing debut, Home, over three decades later, is performed in the round at the Studio Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College.
…with this outstanding cast, director and crew, ‘Home’ is a good play to see.
It is normally a risky venture to stage a play in that configuration when the work consists mainly of dialogue. But it succeeds here, thanks to Boutte’s attention to details, emphasis on movement and pacing and the stellar performances from the three-person cast.
In reviewing Home on the second night of four previews one could have anticipated a few rough spots to iron out. Other than a minor fumbling of a line, little ostensibly needs to be fixed.
The story depicts the plight of hardworking Cephus Miles, played powerfully by Baltimore native Robert Lee Hardy, a farmer in the fictional rural town of Crossroads, North Carolina. Cephus is a likeable, good-natured young black man who from his early life and virtually throughout his journey can’t catch a break. He chalks up his misfortunes to “God taking a vacation in Miami”—a theory that he repeated at various turns in the play.
Through his impassioned and, at times, humorous storytelling, Cephus recounts the events that shaped his life. Tragic deaths of family members left Cephus to fend for himself as a youth. There was a brief romantic relationship with Patti Mae (Felicia Curry) who left him for college, never wrote him and eventually married someone else. He lived his younger years in this town but not finding greater opportunities despite his indomitable spirit.
The turning point occurred when Cephus resisted the draft during the Vietnam War and was sentenced to a five-year term in a Raleigh jail. This portion of the play was its weakest because of Williams’ casual treatment of such a pivotal sequence. There is no convincing rationale why Cephus would refuse to serve other than quoting the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” No evidence suggested during the play that Cephus was particularly religious and even if he were, why would he not serve as a Conscientious Objector rather than facing imprisonment at the age of 19?
While in jail Cephus encountered guards and others who convinced him to go to the big city—“the promised land”—to try his fortunes there. The city is unnamed but the audience is told there is a subway. When his term ended, he meets up with unsavory characters from street hustlers, a gold-digging woman and drug addicts who swallow him up. His jail record causes him to lose his job and ultimately his apartment as well as almost losing his life to the dangers the big city presents.
Sensing a continuation of this tragic spiral, Cephus returns to Crossroads where despite his reputation as a “traitor” by some, the ending provides a much-needed smile.
Throughout this journey, Mr. Hardy is accompanied by two sterling actresses—Felicia Curry, a Helen Hayes Award winner, and Fatima Quander—who successfully play a staggering array of characters (male and female) from teasing children to dominating older folks who were part of Cephus’ life. With the simple addition or subtraction of an article of clothing—a scarf here, a hat there, a sweater, a handbag, etc. Ms. Curry and Ms. Quander transform easily into their countless roles and played them to the hilt with passion and intensity.
Director Boutte ensured there was plenty of physicality and movement throughout. Mr. Hardy trekked around the blond-wood, double-platform center stage —at times pacing, occasional sitting, and sometimes emulating working the fields. but always mindful of the in-the-round set-up.
Ms. Curry and Ms. Quander are forces in motion throughout. For example, as teasing children they energetically encircle the outside perimeter of the stage dancing and chanting. (Ms. Curry effectively conveys tenderness and innocence as Patti Mae). When not in a particular scene they wait in opposite corner platforms readying the next costume addition or a stage prop but never a distraction as Mr. Hardy during his monologues commands the stage and the audience’s attention. At times the cast gets to sing a bit; not enough unfortunately for they possess rich voices.
Credit James Fouchard for the simplistic yet very functional set. Dan Covey’s clever lighting effects are in sync with the play’s many changes of scenes and moods. And Neil McFadden did a fine job of using sound effects judiciously—blues music, wind, and a car, for instance—adding to this expertly staged play.
Home was written before the advent of personal computers and the Internet. But we all know how comfortable we are at a home page after exploring an unfamiliar website. That is the message of Home: a good, comfortable place to return. And with this outstanding cast, director and crew, Home is a good play to see.
Running Time: Two hours with no intermission.
Advisory: This show contains profanity and sexual situations and is not appropriate for children.
Home runs through March 17 at the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044. Tickets may be purchased by calling 443-518-1500 or email the Box office at BoxOffice@howardcc.edu.