The Citiblog

Review: The Superb Home is Where the Heart Is
June 5, 2024, 9:24.52 pm ET


Photo: Joan Marcus

The idea of home – as a safe place that one desperately wants to return to – is a powerful concept all-too-present currently on the New York stage, from “The Wiz” to “Breaking the Story.” But nowhere does it feel like a more potent destination than in the late Samm-Art Williams’ powerful, picaresque, poetic -- and aptly named --“Home,” now being given a splendid Broadway revival by the brilliant director Kenny Leon at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s recently rechristened Todd Haimes Theatre.

For all its universality, “Home,” originally presented over 40 years by the Negro Ensemble Company, is decidedly a specific exploration of the African American experience in America. True, some of its details, most notably, the five-year incarceration of the main character, Cephus Miles Jr. (an extraordinary Tory Kittles, a master of not just physical and vocal transformation, but hope and sadness) for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, may have it had a bit more power and punch during the show’s original Broadway run. But the sad reality is that the challenges Cephus faces are still tormenting African American men today so many decades later.

Admittedly, Williams’ story is a fairly simple one (and rather simply designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, Dede Ayite and Allen Lee Hughes), and is told tidily if expressively during the show’s 90 minutes. A simple man content to make a living on his grandfather’s North Carolina farm – and hoping to marry high school sweetheart Pattie Mae Wells – Cephus’ life gets turned down upside down once he refuses conscription, essentially for his religious convictions/

His prison ordeal leaves him unwelcome and, indeed, unhomed in his native soil, causing him to chase bigger, more conventional if less suitable dreams in New York City. While he quickly settles into life of possible prosperity with a good factory job, the revelation of his ex-con status smashes his new reality into little pieces, even preventing him from gaining further dutiful employment and, ultimately, leading him to a wasted life of drugs, booze and dreams deferred, diminished and destroyed until a miraculous reversal of fortune suddenly appears.

Had Williams’ chosen to make “Home” a solo play, it would not have been nearly as engaging, as proven by the 40 other characters – some snippets, some more more sharply drawn – all played here by two remarkable women. Brittany Inge and Stori Ayers are each possessed both with a truly chameleonic ability to jump almost instantly from persona to persona and a gorgeous singing voice that could likely be heard on 42nd Street, making the show a truly theatrical experience.

Inge brings warmth to her central role Pattie Mae, who half-reluctantly abandons Cephus to go to college in Virginia and ends up marrying a much wealthier man, without ever losing our sympathy. As practical as she is beautiful, Pattie Mae explains: “A man can always get a job. But a woman needs her education, Cephus. We’ll have children to raise. They can’t all go around cussing like you.”

Ayers get more bits and pieces to work with, but she’s equally engaging as a kindly bus driver, a hard-bitten New York City woman, or a young North Carolinan who bonds with Cephus. As good as Kittles is, the show does feel the occasional absences of Ayers and Inge. With these three sublime performers on stage, the audience may never want to go home!