Onetime Vietnam draft dodger Cephus Miles has an epic story to tell, and told in a more realistic, straightforward manner, I might have enjoyed it a good deal more than the hour-and-forty-minute theatrical poetry slam that is Samm-Art Williams’s Home, a play whose flowery language seldom engaged me despite impeccable staging and performances at Long Beach’s International City Theatre.

A cast of three, two of whom play several dozen female and male roles between them, take us on an overly theatrical journey that begins in the small North Carolina town of Crossroads where Cephus (Donathan Walters) grows from land-loving farmer’s son to Pattie Mae-loving young man, only to have his heart broken when the girl of his dreams leaves for college and an educated life he quickly realizes may not have room for an unschooled man of the earth like he.

Said premonition does indeed become reality when word reaches Cephus that Pattie Mae has wed a successful young professional, news that could hardly come at a less propitious time just with Vietnam War heating up across the sea.

Before long, our brokenhearted young hero has chosen a prison uniform over a soldier’s, the first step towards a life of debauchery and degradation … though perhaps not of eventual redemption.

Considering the praise that’s been heaped on Home since its 1980 Best Play Tony-nominated Broadway debut, mine is most likely a minority voice, but poetry is not my thing, and though I enjoy plays in which actors get to show off how just many parts they can bring to life when the intended effect is tongue-in-cheek, e.g. ICT’s Shipwrecked this past year, this is one theatrical conceit I can mostly do without. (Seeing Jefferson Mays play forty roles in I Am My Own Wife was did not do it for me despite its Best Play/Best Actor Tony wins.)

That’s not to say that Home doesn’t have its powerful moments. It does, and never more so than in an unexpected final plot twist that moved me nearly to tears. Walters and his costars Angela K. Thomas (Woman One) and Leilani Smith (Woman Two) give bravura performances, and Gregg T. Daniel’s direction is as inspired as direction gets.

Add to that a versatile farmhouse set designed by Tesshi Nakagawa, impeccably accessorized by resident properties designers Patty and Gordon Briles’s and lit with abundant flair by Stacy McKenney Norr; resident costume designer Kim DeShazo’s character defining costumes, many of which are designed to facilitate quick character changes; resident designer Anthony Gagliardi’s hair and wigs; and sound designer Corwin Evans’s subtle but powerful blend of effects, and you’ve got yet another top-drawer ICT production design.

John Freeland, Jr. is stage manager and Sean Casey Flanagan is assistant stage manager. Casting is by resident casting director Michael Donovan, CSA. Richie Ferris, CSA, is casting associate.

Like Fences, Flyin’ West and Ain’t Misbehavin’ before it, Home reflects a laudable commitment by International City Theatre to pay tribute to the African-American experience. Hopefully you’ll take to its flamboyant use of language and über-theatricality more than I did.

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International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
October 22, 2017
Photos: Tracey Roman


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