Home is a glorious piece of work, a memory play that is both lyric and heroic. Like Ulysses or The Wizard of Oz, it is a tale of a person looking for their soul, which is with them all the time like a ruby sewn into the hem of their garment.
Cephus Miles (Kevin T. Carroll) grows up on a farm in North Carolina in the late 1950’s. His world revolves around the land and his relationship to it, which is profound. When the draft board knocks on his door, he refuses to sign the paper, not only because he is a conscientious objector but because he doesn’t know where Vietnam is. So begins his banishment. Off to jail he goes, and while he is gone the land that he loves is taken for taxes. When he is released, he has no home left and ends up in a nameless Northern city known only as the monster. We follow his journey, which, like Dante’s, passes through several gates of Hell before he rolls out into the sunlight once again. Like I said – it’s a classic tale.
What is also, or should be, classic is the territory: the story of a black American experience. Alas, this is not the case. The stories of black America are given little room on our stages, with the exception of August Wilson's plays, and he was hailed more for being Olympian than griot. In 1966 Douglas Turner Ward, co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times called "American Theater: For Whites Only?" in which he said, “American legit theater, even at its most ambitious seriousness, is essentially a theater of the Bourgeois, by the Bourgeois, about the Bourgeois, and for the Bourgeois.” What he forgot to specify was that Bourgeois meant white men.
Not a whole lot has changed since then. Look around the house the next time you go to a show and you can usually count the number of black faces on one hand. You can use the other hand, if you need it, to count the number of black actors. And then you can use the leftover fingers on that hand to count the female actors over 50, but that's another story.
So this show becomes a sort of double-your-plenty and double-your-fun kind of an evening. Not only do we get immersed in a tale of black America, we get to be part of an integrated audience AND witness some wildly talented actors. The awards for diversity go to January LaVoy and Tracey Bonner. These two fine actors play female and male parts from childhood to adulthood. They are crisp and clean and so nimble it is difficult to believe there are only two of them on the stage. They give us the chorus, without which this tale would be a recitation.
Carroll is faced with the task of playing just one character, but he plays him with the depth and breadth his soul’s journey deserves. For the most part he succeeds beautifully, and he would do well to trust himself more in the moments when he has an urge to demonstrate rather than experience a moment.
All three handle the script, which is not only difficult but takes time to find itself for the first third or so of the play, with an ease and generosity that speaks to their talents.
In spite of the script’s uneven structure, this production, aided by the excellent direction of Ron O J Parson and the entire design Team (Shaun Motley, Ilona Somogyi and Michael Chybowski), takes you places you hadn’t planned on going when you sat your butt down in the theater. Home not only accomplishes its goal, it exceeds your expectations. Bravo.
Home by Samm-Art Williams; directed by Ron O J Parson.
WITH: Tracey Bonner (Woman Two), Kevin T. Carroll (Cephus Miles), and January LaVoy (Woman Two/Pattie Mae Wells).
Sets by Shaun Motley; costumes by Ilona Somogyi; lighting by Michael Chybowski; sound and vocal arrangements by Kathryn Bostic; production stage manager, Chandra LaViolette; associate artistic director, Beth Whitaker; general manager, Adam Bernstein; production manager, Paul Ziemer; associate artist, Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Presented by the Signature Theatre Company, James Houghton, artistic director; Erika Mallin, executive director. At the Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street, Clinton, (212) 244-7529. Through Jan. 4. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.