Samm-Art Williams’ play, Home, first produced in 1979 by the Negro Ensemble Company at St. Mark’s Playhouse, moved to Broadway in 1980, where it earned Tony and Drama Desk nominations. In researching this article, one source called the play a comedy. It is not so easily pigeon holed. To be sure, there is humor in the one-hundred-minute piece, but there is also pathos, as well as social, political and historical commentary. Home is the classic hero journey of one individual. The tale is told in storyteller fashion by a cast of three, the extraordinary trio of Angela K. Thomas and Leilani Smith as Woman One and Woman Two, and Donathan Walters as Cephus Miles. There is an abundance of song in the show performed primarily by the women who deliver strong, nuanced performances of music that is familiar and traditional, enhancing the story. The protean actors Thomas and Smith take on multiple roles both female and male that shape the course of Cephus Miles’ life from youth to middle age. The play has a poetic, theatrical style that calls to mind Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood.
Cephus Miles is a farm boy living in the small North Carolina village of Crossroads in a time after the Second World War. The town is poor and paved roads are a luxury. Cephus is a happy boy who loves the land and what grows on it. He waxes rapturous as he digs his hands in the soil and feels the growing plants. As he comes of age, he falls passionately for the lovely Pattie Mae (Ms. Thomas), and is cared for after he loses both his grandfather and uncle by his auntie (Ms. Smith). As Cephus matures his life is marred by war, prison, and the path of northern migration that so many African Americans took after World War Two. His bright, naïve hope of a better life in the metropolis clashes with the cruel realties of the streets.
The International City Theatre production, exuberantly directed by Gregg T. Daniel, is true to the lean style needed for the telling of a sweeping saga. Tesshi Nakagawa’s minimalist set, consisting of multiple platforms and the suggestion of Cephus’ simple rustic house, is complimented by the lighting design of Stacy McKenney. Rounding out the creative team are costume designer Kim DeShazo, sound designer Corwin Evans, props designers Patty and Gordon Briles, and hair and wigs designer Anthony Gagliardi.
This production of Home has an irresistible cast that sweeps the audience along with an enthralling depth of emotion. The show runs through November 5 at International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.