‘Home’ at Rep Stage by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

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Who says you can’t go home again?

Think about the word home, and what it means to you.

Home can be the place that you grew up in, or any place that you spend a significant amount of time. More than a physical representation or a metaphor for a secure and loving place held deep in your heart, comes Rep Stage’s transformed in-the-round presentation of Samm-Art Williams lyrically expressive, Home directed by Duane Boutté.

 

Fatima Quander and Robert Lee Hardy.  Photo by Stan Barouh.
Fatima Quander and Robert Lee Hardy. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Williams’ 1980 Tony Award-nominated play with memorable characters is a timeless play of hope, inspiration, and a spiritual reminder of the guidance and direction of a higher power. Through triumph and tragedy in this coming-of-age story is a relevant, culturally specific, and transcendent American story.

Although Home starts in the late 50s and ends present day (as of 1979 when the play was written), the story transcends time and is based mostly on the playwright’s experiences growing up in Bergaw, North Carolina, a small town in the South. Essentially a parable, the story is a simple one, but it’s the complexity of the time period and the unrest of emotions and motivations that are the test. Three actors present a character story and part morality play about testing faith and God, and the learning and defining of who you are. The audience imagines the events, shares in the experience, and never forgets that as an audience member we are submerged in the action. 

The story is centered around Cephus Miles, who is an African American farmer. But you don’t have to be an African-American or a farmer for this smartly directed production to resonate. The story is universal, and there is something in it that will likely touch everyone. Home is about a man’s desire to find his center, to know his purpose, to be at home with who is and his choices. The quest for purpose is something that is identifiable in all of us at some point in our lives, and just one of the reasons why Home is a production you don’t want to miss.

The vivid storytelling allows for the audience to collectively use their imaginations to take a journey, as Cephus Miles’ world breathes life into a pilgrimage of it’s own. It is Cephus’ indomitable spirit and ‘everyman’ persona that lend to the down home easy atmosphere and concentrated interest that the audience invests in his plight and life experiences. This is a man who makes you care about him. In part that’s credit to the skillful playwriting of Samm-Art Williams who makes words swoon. But it is the dynamism of Robert Lee Hardy and his interpretation of the character that connected me and the rapt attention of the audience to the undeniable likeability, warmth, and concern for Cephus. Despite the flaws and imperfections of this ‘everyman,’ Hardy quickly establishes that there is genuineness to him and an authenticity to his journey, his struggles, and his crossroads. We see ourselves in him.

Hardy is funny, poignant, and expertly affecting and charismatic with his emotional insight. The way he works the four sides of the round, treats everyone to a front row experience. 

What also contributes greatly to making this play so engaging and watchable is the fluid ease of Felicia Curry (Woman One, Patti Mae) and Fatima Quander (Woman Two) as they step in out of the multiple characters they play revealing emotional finesse, distinction, and energized spunk. Their rhythmic and melodic singing in key transition moments and poignant segues of deeply felt hymns and harmonizing tones are soothing, feel-goodness for the soul. Boutté, also a composer and the musical director for Home, has provided original music for the transitions and any text that invited singing, and the music maintains a bluesy back drop for the production.

The versatility and the malleable willingness of Quander and Curry to dive into the wide range of fully realized characters – all with different accents – are a memorable, smorgasbord display of talent that one rarely gets to see from individuals in a single production.

These women are outstanding performers and are stealth with their frequent wardrobe changes (Colorful simplicity by Costume Designer, Celestine Ranney-Howes). Their conceptualization, along with Duane Boutté’s directorial vison of the reach and the extremes of these characters is to be commended, as is Dialect/Vocal coach Nancy Crebs and Movement Coach Renee Brozic Barger.

Duane Boutté. Photo by Shandon Youngclaus.
Duane Boutté. Photo by
Shandon Youngclaus.

The actions in Home take place in three locations and a three piece set by Scenic Designer James Fouchard in-the-round, but there are no stage wizardry or technical gimmicks in this production. The ingenious, simplicity of the set is a powerful base for the roving character study at focus, and the standout lighting (Dan Covey) is one ever-changing and effective design support to the setting and story. 

Home is a conscience right of passage that could very well be your own. There are many pathways to success. When faced with difficult choices, some may take immediate action, while many are guided by an undeniable faith, still others are paralyzed to do nothing at all. The crossroads in Home are identifiable and telegraph the transformation one faces when making a life changing decision, it’s also about the drama to continue on an unsuccessful path – like the Cephus character encounters – or garnering the fortitude to go back home. The themes of love, responsibility, friendship and surrender to a greater force anchor the production.

The definition of home is perhaps redefined or reshaped for Cephus as he lives his life, but what never changes are the search for belonging, knowing who you are, and the eventual realization that man is not in control, God is. There are certain messages, like ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’ and ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ that are universal no matter what your spiritual beliefs. I admire that the play and Duane Boutté’s direction aren’t afraid to compellingly embrace the religious undertones, and successfully does so without proselytizing.

Fatima Quander, Robert Lee Hardy, and Felicia Curr. Photo by Stan Barouh.
Fatima Quander, Robert Lee Hardy, and Felicia Curry. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Home answers and begs the audience to ask itself, “What are your crossroads?”  No matter what city, state, or country you are from, as human beings there are crossroads that we will all undoubtedly meet. Let Home be a road in your life’s travels.

Home is where the heart is.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission.

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Home plays a limited run through March 17th, 2013, at Rep Stage at Howard Community College – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.

LINKS
Part 1: An Interview with Duane Boutté – the Director of Rep Stage’s Home by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins.

Part 2: An Interview with Duane Boutté – the Director of Rep Stage’s Home by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins.

Duane Boutté’s website.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]