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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Home Fires Burning
Though the play is a decade old the production currently at the Miniature Theatre of Chester is a world premiere since a 1992 film adaptation by author Christopher Ceraso (The Turning) locked up the stage rights for some time even though the film wasn't a box office record breaker. Artistic director Byam Stevens has given the play a production that yields positive results, abetted by the performances of the cast of four (twice as big as is usual in this little theater).
The title is ironic, since the fire stoking kindling of love and communication has long turned to ashes in the Harnish family's home outside Wheeling. West Virginia. The neglect of the marriage and parent-child relationship is reflected in the shabby kitchen where Martha Harnish once wrote stories but now spends most of her time smoking and drinking. As the parents have drifted out of love, so their son Cliff abruptly drifted out of their lives and has spent the last four years roving the country. Unlike other small town youths, his search is not for adventure or a career but for an ideology.
A letter from Martha to Cliff announcing that she and his father are putting an official end to their long dead marriage, triggers Cliff's return, and with it the need by Martha and Mark to face the mistakes swept under the rug before they can hope to move on with their lives. Besides Cliff's crazed attempts to prevent the divorce, there's the new woman in Mark's life. She too has drifted through life (including an unsatisfying, abandoned marriage) and is looking for a sense of rootedness. It is when Glory becomes the focus of Cliff's crazed determination to reunite his family, that Mark and Martha are forced to deal with blame and regret, and the force of evil seeded from their inability to come to grips with their problems.
Mr. Stevens has done an outstanding job in shifting the action back and forth between the homes of Martha and Mark Harnish and Glory, with the next scene taking shape as the one before ends. Set designer Molly Reynolds has reserved a small area to the front and right of the stage for several other locations.
All four roles are well rendered. Jennifer Rohn is outstanding as Glory, the woman who has made Mark once again feel alive and hopeful of a meaningful future. She is smart and gutsy, but vulnerable. Brian Delate is also powerful as the man who has spent his life in two different kinds of trapped situations -- the confines of the mines and those of an unhappy marriage. Michael Linstroth, as the the son, could be a little more menacing. The first signal of the real danger lurking beneath Cliff's baby-faced exterior is also the play's most dramatic scene which nothing that follows can quite match for take-your-breath-away impact.
While Home Fires Burning holds our attention it suffers from some credibility gaps. For example: If Cliff has been completely out of touch with his mother for four years, how did she know where to address a letter? We never get any specific details about the neglected marriage and Martha's alcoholism. More importantly, Mr. Ceraso seems to have overlooked the fact that a serious drama tends to be helped rather than hindered by a touch of lightness and humor.