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Review

Home

3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

The revivals that Kenny Leon has directed on Broadway form something like a syllabus of modern African-American drama, from Loraine Hansberry to August Wilson to Suzan-Lori Parks. Last season, that project brought him to Purlie Victorious, in which a Black man travels to his birthplace in the South to reclaim his place there in triumph; now Leon follows it with a play in which a different rural homecoming seems less happy, at least at first. But don’t give up too fast: Home, after all, is where the heart is.

Cephus Miles (Tory Kittles) is a broken man at the start of Samm-Art Williams’s play, which is now at the Roundabout’s Todd Haimes Theatre. After a long exile—first in prison, then in a big city up north—Cephus is back in his not-so-subtly-named hometown of Cross Roads, North Carolina. In a rocking chair on the porch of his childhood home, he seems to have nowhere to go; his right hand has a tremor, and the noisy local kids think he’s a ghost. (Like all of the roles except Cephus, these taunting brats are played by the gifted duo of Brittany Inge and Stori Ayers, who move among dozens of characters with big swings of affect and voice.)

But for Home, which debuted downtown in 1979 under the aegis of the Negro Ensemble Company before moving to a successful Broadway run the next year, Cephus’s weary return after many trials is not a defeat. Like Cephus himself, the play has an abiding faith in the eventual goodness of the Lord above—despite a running joke about how He seems to be on vacation—and a deep-rooted belief in the value of hard, honest work. “If there was ever a woman or man who has everlasting grace in the eyes of God, it’s the farmer woman and man,” the chorus tells us. “Tenders to the soil. Children of the land.”

Home | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

When Cephus is spinning tallish tales about his childhood, even the darkest stories are full of lively good humor. But things begin to go sour when the love of his life, Patti Mae (Inge), dumps him to go to college; and when he refuses, on principle, to fight in the Vietnam War, that spells the end of his anything-but-idle idyll of life on the farm. The lush tobacco and corn of Arnulfo Maldonado’s set give way to an empty city framed by metal fire escapes. And while Cephus finds success up north for a while—and a new lady friend, the candidly materialistic Myrna (Ayers)—his life there quickly goes south. He can’t outrun his past, and deep inside he’s still a country boy. As Patti Mae says: “It’s no kind of life for a person, outside the Cross Roads. They don’t understand you.”

Williams’s nostalgia for trad Black life seems to stem from disillusionment with American culture in the 1970s, though it seems fair to ask whether he’s just replacing one illusion with another. And if the play’s sentimentality seems somewhat quaint, so do some of its very 1970s theatrical approaches, including interludes of verse. Home drags at the start, when the chorus is prone to portentous interchanges, and the section before Cephus goes to prison feels slow (even though much of it is delivered by Kittles at breakneck, auctioneer-style speed); one wishes, too, that Williams explored Cephus’s pivotal decision to defy the draft more clearly.

Yet the play gains momentum as it goes on, thanks partly to the engaging commitment of the cast but also to Wiliams’s skill with specifics: This play shines in the details. By the end it has won you over into joy. I left grateful to have seen this piece of Black history on Broadway again. Welcome back, Home. You’ve been missed.

Home. Todd Haimes Theatre (Broadway). By Samm-Art Williams. Directed by Kenny Leon. With Tory Kittles, Brittany Inge, Stori Ayers. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. 

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Home | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Details

Address
Todd Haimes Theatre
227 W 42nd St
New York
10036
Cross street:
between Seventh and Eighth Aves
Transport:
Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority; N, Q, R, 42nd St S, 1, 2, 3, 7 to 42nd St–Times Sq
Price:
$78–$329

Dates and times

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