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|A CurtainUp Review
By David Lipfert
The current revival of Home at Theatre of the Riverside Church by The Melting Pot Theatre Company is a chance to reevaluate Samm-Art Williams's gentle saga of one Cephus Miles. It is a story of woe with a happy ending, much like that of Prophet Job. Within Black society of the rural South in the late 1950s and '60s, opportunities were few and advancing up the economic and social ladder meant going away and usually never returning. Both Cephus and his one true love Pattie Mae leave to seek happiness elsewhere but return in the end. Older and wiser, they finally learn the meaning of home.
Cephus, played by E. Phillip McGlaston, began life as a farm boy in the small community of Crossroads, North Carolina. The town is populated by many colorful types, but for Cephus its most influential citizens were the women.most influential for Cephus. Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Tamilla Woodard portray the various key females that helped Cephus to grow up knowing right from wrong and to experiment with love.
Emotions run high aswe watch him rather passively falls into a family-sanctioned engagement with Pattie Mae (Tamilla Woodard), the prettiest and smartest young lady in Crossroads. The two become intimate; and when Pattie Mae leaves to go to college, Cephus counts on her promise to return to marry him. He feels humiliated when he learns that she has married a soon-to-be wealthy professional, and here begins his downward spiral.
In spite of his apparently loose morality, Cephus remembers the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" when his turn comes to be drafted to fight in the Vietnamese War. Five years in prison as a draft resister leave him despondent. When he gets out, he finds his farm has been sold for taxes. With all doors shut in Crossroads, he sets out for the big city to make his fortune. Lacking a high-school diploma, the best job he can get is loading and unloading trucks. The high life seems within reach until his prison record gets him fired. Sliding from welfare to the streets he hits rock bottom--but not for long. A mysterious benefactor has purchased his old farm and invites him to return to Crossroads. This takes us into the late 1970s and after 13 years away from the South Cephus' is bowled over by all the changes such as no more segregated bathrooms.
All the changes nothwithstanding, Cephus remains an outsider for the other townsfolk, who invent stories about how mean and disagreeable he is. Then he has a visitor who turns out to be none other than Pattie Mae, now divorced and chastened. Cephus is initially surprised and then embarrassed that it was Pattie Mae who was responsible for buying back his farm and thus for his rehabilitation. At the end, however, the two decide to take their time getting to know and trust each other again, but the audience knows that happiness is just around the corner. Chalk it up to Grace.
Mr. Williams seems to intend a dual meaning for his title. Primarily Home stands for a person's roots, the community of family and friends that remain for Cephus nor Pattie Mae no matter how far away life took them. At times Home is where you are at the moment, like the jail where Cephus spent five years or the streets of New York. Finally, Home can also be a source of hope-- no matter how bad things get, you can always return there, if only mentally. The emphasis of the drama is on the personal dimension with a blunting of any criticisms of society.. All the sharp edges of the Vietnam era, segregation or even rural poverty have been softened or even romanticized. Using two women to play all the minor characters has the perverse effect of undermining Cephus's masculine identity, seemingly untouched by contact or conflict with other men.
Under Kent Gash's direction, the three actors frequently address the audience but they rarely probe below the surface narration. Mr. McGlaston creates a likeable Cephus, but he seems unable to go beyond the text to communicate his character's inner emotions. Ms. Woodard is charming as the prudish younger Pattie Mae, though her multiple characters and the later Pattie Mae lack variety. Ms. Ekulona has the most interesting parts--impudent school boy, wise mother and, most amusingly, loose woman.
Todd Potter's unit set offers multiple playing areas and provides shelves and hooks for props and costume elements. Alvin B. Perry's costume design economically defines the various characters played by the two women -- from mother to welfare case worker to hooker. The lighting designed by William H. Grant III is superb. Surprisingly for such an elaborated production, Mr. Gash did not utilize even occasional music to underline the mood of key scenes.
In its original Broadway production in 1980, Home was a Tony nominee after a previous production at the Negro Ensemble Company, where it won the Outer Critics Circle and Villager awards for the season's best play.
B>Editor's Note: The Melting Pot company, initiated its arrival on the Off-Broadway scene this season with a delightful musical The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show Stanley Brechner the American Jewish Theatre's artistic director, was so impressed with this little musical's energy that he invited the show's director and several members of the cast to participate in his short run revival of Yiddle With a Fiddle