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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review
Home Fires Burning
The Porches Inn

I'm doing my best not to drift any more
---Glory, who drifted out of one marriage and is now in a relationship with Mark who describes his marriage to Martha as The two of us were living together like corpses.
I stand for something that's going to move us in the right direction -- Cliff, who has drifted out of his parents' (Mark and Martha) life, bought into a variety of right wing doctrines and is now determined to save the family from drifting away from old-fashioned family values.
I'm ready to let it go -- thank you for your hope -- the world changes -- Martha the alcoholic wife who, while taking solace in her son's seemingly good intentions is ready to accept what he cannot.

Brian Delate and Jennifer Rohn
Brian Delate and Jennifer Rohn
The four characters in Chris Ceraso's Home Fires Burning are all people with whom we can identify and empathize -- even the nominal villain. That "villain" is the only son of a West Virginia coal miner and his wife who has a talent for writing and a penchant for alcohol. His way of dealing with the lack of nurturing in his home -- drifting around the country and finding the missing sense of belonging with a variety of hate groups -- lends a scary and all too timely element to this drama of despair, hope and redemption. There's an added bit of timeliness in the coal mining background since the energy crisis has once again made coal miners an important part of the work force though most, like the coal miner in this play, are middle aged and looking for better ways to spend the rest of their lives.

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.

Home Fires Burning
Written by Christopher Ceraso Directed by Byam Stevens

Cast: Brian Delate, Jennifer Rohn, Sylvia Keleglan, Michael Linstroth
Set and Costume Design: Molly Reynolds
Lighting Design: Lara Dubin
Running Time: 90 minutes, plus one 15-minute intermission
The Miniature Theatre of Chester
Town Hall, Chester MA
(413-354-7771) -- web site
Thursday -Sunday 8pm with Thursday and Sunday matinees at 2pm

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 8/09 matinee performance
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