Review: Home (Court Theatre)

       
    

Resonant and timely, yet still flawed

     
     

Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ashley Honore, and Tracey N Bonner in Home at Court Theatre

   
Court Theatre presents
   
Home
   
Written by Samm-Art Williams
Directed by
Ron OJ Parson
at
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through Dec 12  | 
tickets: $30-$60  |  more info

Review by Catey Sullivan

Three decades pass within the trajectory of Home, Samm-Art Williams three-character saga of a swath of American history viewed through the lens of an African-American man. The odyssey of Cephus Miles, from naïve, idealistic farm boy to destitute, drugged-out urbanite to prodigal son returned to the land is both uniquely specific and undeniably universal. It doesn’t matter what your race is: The struggle to put down roots can lead to the hellish instability of rocky soil long before a redemptive, fertile ground is found.

Final scene from HOME - Court Theatre - Kamal Angelo Bolden and Ashley HonoreThe piece is flawed, to be sure. Cephus (Kamal Angelo Bolden) seems to be no deeper than his outward actions – a character comprised of action but with little internal nuance. And by playing multiple roles as Cephus’ Job-like travels unfurl, Woman I (Ashley Honore) and Woman 2 (Tracey N. Bonner) provide character sketches that are more amusing than deep. Finally, the happily-ever-after ending that ensues after Cephus’ woeful odyssey of heartbreak, prison, and homelessness seems a bit pat. Williams dispenses with a wealth of endlessly complex societal woes – poverty, racism, and drug addiction among them – with a few deft swipes of the pen.

Wiliams’ text is musical, a rhythmic, lyrical pastiche of scenes that play like movements in a verbal sonata with words that literally sing at times. Hymns, spirituals, chants to make the toil of laboring in the tobacco fields endurable are interspersed through more traditional scenes of storytelling.

The yarns Cephus’ spins recalling his boyhood in Crossroads, North Carolina, are among the plays highlights: Working for the local moonshiner in a backwoods still where the occasional possum fell into the vat and made the brew all the more pungent; ditching church to play craps on Sunday out in the graveyard, escapades with colorful local characters – in the telling of these memories, Home shines brightest.

Cephus’ true love Patti May (Ashley Honore) figures predominantly in the story, with requisite rolls in the hayloft and vivid depictions of the explosive, pent-up sexuality of adolescence. But while there’s no questioning the sweet eroticism that exists between the couple, Patti May herself is all pleasant superficiality rather than uniquely layered character. She’s pretty, but that’s about it – Williams’ text provides little depth to the woman. When she makes a rather predictable final-act re-entry into Cephus’ life, her motivations for doing so seem more like a dramatic convenience (it wouldn’t do to leave poor Cephus stuck in a miserable, unhappy ending) than a genuine turn of events.

Ashley Honore and Kamal Angelo Bolden - Court Theatre Ashley Honore, Kamal Angelo Bolden, and Tracey N. Bonner - Home - Court Theatre
Ashley Honore, Kamal Angelo Bolden, and Tracey N. Bonner at Court Theatre - Home Kamal Angelo Bolden in winter scene in Samm-Art Williams Home - Court Theatre

Tracey N. Bonner has better luck playing multiple characters of marvelously funny and idiosyncratic quirks. As a coke-sniffing, loose-living big-city harlot, she’s a hoot, swanning about in a Scarlett-woman red feather boa like some kind of post-modern Jezebel. She’s equally memorable playing a snootily righteous welfare office caseworker who denigrates a homeless Cephus for being an embarrassment to his race.

This production is Ron OJ Parson’s third time at the helm of Home, having directed the piece for the Madison Repertory Company and New York’s Signature Theatre. He keeps the pace brisk, shaping scenes that are sometimes almost like small choreopoems. The opening scene is particularly effective as the two women hoe under a blazing sun, giving a harsh cadence to words so descriptively you can all but feel the sweat from relentless heat and ache from the back-breaking labor.
But while many of the individual scenes in Home resonate with powerful immediacy, the story as a whole just isn’t as effective – primarily because of that fairy tale, happily-ever-after ending. Williams brings plenty of relevancy to the stage: Cephus’ imprisonment after refusing to fight in Viet Nam is an issue that rings loud and clear as the war in Iraq plods bloodily on. His battles with heroin, homelessness and lost love are also vividly immediate. Unfortunately, his rapid redemption – financially, emotionally and geographically – are not. And his constant refrain throughout – that God is “on vacation in Miami” adds a jarring note to otherwise melodious dialogue.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

     
     

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REVIEW: Sketchbook X (Collaboraction)

Collaboraction celebrates the creative spirit with Sketchbook X

 Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre. http://www.collaboraction.org

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook X:   People’s Choice
   
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through June 27th  |  tickets: $20-$35   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

What is a play exactly? Is it a dramatic staging of a story? Is it people moving around in a physical space in front of an audience? And furthermore, what separates a play from a sketch or a scene or even a performance art installation?

Pictured (left to right): Jeffrey Gitelle, Ian McLaren and Emily Shain in “Eighty Four” written by Cory Tamler, directed by Dan Stermer. “Eighty Four” is one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27 at The Chopin Theatre These are the questions I was left pondering after seeing Collaboraction’s tenth annual Sketchbook festival, a showcase of original mixed media performances. This  year’s theme was “exponential.” Yes, it is fairly nebulous, and this is perhaps one reason why the output lacks a certain concreteness and cohesion. Characters and plot become secondary to evoking visceral emotions. Sketchbook X in many ways is more circus than drama.

This isn’t to say that the finished product is all spectacle and no substance. There are some standout pieces.

The one that clearly stands out the most is Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Unlike other pieces that become crushed under their own weight, Five Lesbians is a witty, stylized comedy. Devised by Evan Linder, the play features five women (Sarah Gitenstein, Mary Hollis Inboden, Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa and Megan Johns) who head a local social club centered around a shared love of quiche. The women click and cluck like 1950s southern church ladies and harass the audience. When communist Russia bombs the outside world, all quiche is destroyed. The women go into a tizzy, which leads to their outings.

Five Lesbians works because it is the most refined piece of the festival. The script feels fully fleshed out, the actors are well aware of their characters and the comedic timing is impeccable. There is a lot of commitment, and there is little ambiguity. It has an aesthetic all its own that is so engaging I’d pay to see a full-length production.

Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre

Other standouts include Sacrebleu (devised and performed by Dean Evans, Molly Plunk and Anthony Courser), a pantomimed, slapstick comedy about two eccentric French fur trappers. The short monologue The Blueberry (written by Sean Graney and featuring Celeste Januszewski) is a thoughtful meditation on existence that explains string theory with blueberry imagery.

Other pieces, however, just don’t pan out. What I’m Looking For (written by Brett C. Leonard and featuring Joel Gross and Heather Bodie) is little more than a heavy-handed music video for a Rufus Wainwright song. Meanwhile, The Untimely Death of  Adolf Hitler (written by Andy Grigg and featuring Eddie Karch, Anthony Moseley, Erin Myers, Greg Hardigan and Dan Krall) lacks enough wit to drive the piece beyond its premise. But you can’t expect all the pieces to be gems. Besides, if you don’t like something, just wait 7 to 10 minutes for another play.

Sketchbook-Four-Women As usual, Collaboraction has succeeded in making the festival feel like a big event. The interior of the Chopin Theatre is awash in glowing light and fog. Two large screens flank the sides of the stage and streamers stretch from the floor to the ceiling. It all makes for a breath-taking first impression.

If you want to see all 19 pieces in a row, you’ll have to see the show on a Saturday. Be warned, though. It’s a 4.5-hour long journey, though you are encouraged to come and go as you please.

Overall, Sketchbook X is a mixed bag of intriguing works. The majority of the pieces lack refinement, but there are a few plays that are polished treasures. The theme gets lost among the many productions, but I don’t think that’s the point. Rather, Sketchbook is more of a party that aims to celebrate the creative spirit, and in that sense, it succeeds.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

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