Written by Samm-Art Williams
Through March 17 at the Rep Stage
Since the 1950s, the dominant fable in the African-American community has declared the 20th century migration from the South to the North an act of self-liberation from serfdom to independence. Samm-Art Williams' play Home, now at the Rep Stage in Columbia, is a counter-fable, a story that suggests leaving the South was a mistake that severed African-Americans from nature and village rituals with disastrous results.
Director Duane Boutte emphasizes the fabulistic aspects of the 1979 script by staging it in-the-round: a blond, wooden riser becomes an island of the imagination where Cephus Miles (Robert Lee Hardy) can stand outside of time and recount his journey from a North Carolina tobacco farm to prison to New York and back home again. As he does so, two actresses (Felicia Curry and Fatima Quander) form a Greek chorus of sorts, playing dozens of characters ranging from young, apple-stealing boys and old Sunday School teachers to zonked-out drug dealers and barroom floozies.
Taking his cue from Ntozake Shange's 1975 play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Williams uses poetry to create the context for the more naturalistic vignettes from Cephus' life. That poetry-and the blues and gospel songs that stud the performance-reinforces the sense that this is a fable and justifies the otherwise implausible ending. It's the short bursts of realistic dialogue, however, that will stay with you after you leave the theater.
Cephus is the kind of country bumpkin who knows more about chopping tobacco and cleaning catfish than he does about jazz and loose women; his type is usually the butt of jokes in black comedy, but in Home this naivete becomes a badge of honor. Cephus doesn't know that you can't just refuse induction into the army, so he doesn't go off to Vietnam. He doesn't know that a man isn't supposed to be tied down by one woman, so he remains in love with his Pattie Mae. He doesn't know that concrete sidewalks are hipper than black soil, so he remains a farmer at heart. He does give the northern city life a whirl, but it almost kills him.
Hardy-a tall, beefy man in a green plaid shirt and clodhopper shoes-gives Cephus' country ways a certain dignity without making him sound more educated than he really is. Pattie Mae (Curry) does get educated at a Virginia college and that causes her to spurn Cephus for a Baltimore lawyer. But actress Curry-a slim woman in a plain orange dress-becomes the audience's sympathetic surrogate, realizing almost too late that that country boy and his farm are what she really wants.