At Rep Stage, a fast-paced ride ‘Home’ in revival of 1980 coming-of-age story
By Nelson Pressley
Thursday, March 7, 2013
The voyage from the rural South to the urban North and back is long and twisted in “Home,” the 1980 road-trip-of-the-soul drama by Samm-Art Williams. The itinerary of
Cephus Miles, a modest black man in search of peace, love and God, is jampacked with lively scenes and gaudy characters. In this narration-heavy script, everything sprouts from the mouths of just three actors.
Director Duane Boutte is a good navigator for “Home,” at least in terms of keeping things moving in this busy revival at Columbia’s Rep Stage. Boute takes an in-the-round approach in the intimate theater: A basic white platform sits in the middle, and a walkway runs around the square (the design is by James Fouchard). Actors rapidly switching characters -- which happens practically every 60 seconds -- pick up bits of costumes from the corners. Dan Covey’s active lighting guides the scenes from place to place. The audience plays along.
This efficient approach charts Cephus’s progress through the civil rights and Vietnam eras, with the Great Migration as a basic underpinning. The play is mostly local Southern color for its first third: fast-moving anecdotes about farming, faith and budding romance. It deepens when Cephus resists military service and gets tossed in jail. That disconnection from his roots worsens as he wanders up to the industrial North, where the cities are rife with vice.
Robert Lee Hardy is a big, physical presence as Cephus, and he’s tremendously likable. Hardy acts with such an open spirit that he’s easily convincing as an old soul spinning yarns in a rocking chair, even as one of the play’s women chides the young Cephus for acting like a codger.
Felicia Curry and Fatima Quander are tasked with providing all the bustle around Cephus, and it’s heavy lifting. They are the swirl of people young and old, male and female, country-fried and citified, and the labor shows because Boutte allows these performers to attack the parts as if they’re playing a 1,000-seat amphitheater. The tales might be tall, and the characters might be larger than life, but the flamboyant hollering is out of hand. It wears you out fast.
Quander gets (or makes) the worst of this. Her confidence is inviting as she assays everything from church ladies to dope peddlers, but too many of the characterizations rely on pedal-to-the-metal energy. Curry at least gets to downshift as Cephus’s long-standing love interest, Pattie Mae, and her scenes with Hardy are blessedly gentle and warm. These are the moments that bring the play home, if only after a fairly noisy ride.