Justice Theater Project
At Clare Hall, St. Francis of Assisi
Through June 26
Some will be surprised to learn that North Carolina playwright Samm-Art Williams’ Home was producedon Broadwaysome 31 years ago. In this unconventional stage work for three actors, the displacement and ultimate redemption of Cephas Miles, a child of the farmland who came of age in a time of war, is told in a frequently compelling combination of scene work, dramatic monologue and what sounds still like contemporary slam poetry; a swirling, kinetic word bath filled with natural imagery and incisive details.
Passages that praise the “everlasting grace” of the farmer and the “sweet blanket” of rain that feeds the land go hand in hand with Cephas’ childhood memories: working the fields with “the two greatest men God ever made,” his father and his Uncle Lewis; playing craps with his friends in the white folks’ section of the graveyard; cleaning catfish at the big community fish fries on the banks of the White Stocking River; and courting Pattie Mae, the girl who’s been “matched” with him by their respective families, albeit under the long shadow of the community church.
But change stalks this seemingly idyllic world: Broken romance, death, loss of faith, and then the Vietnam War, pacifist resistance and imprisonment.
Under Sean Brosnahan’s direction, Joseph Callender cuts a striking figure as Cephas, while Rasool Jahan serves well as a mischievousand later, wisePattie Mae. But not all supporting roles played by Jahan and Joy Williams are as clearly delineated, forced as they are to navigate the play’s sometimes choppy prosody. Williams’ text repeatedly shifs between different forms of discourse, sometimes to jarring effect, and instead of reinforcing key words and phrases, he overrelies upon obvious devices like repetition that only serve to dilute their impact. By the fourth time an actor yells “There’s a WAR going on,” we’re tempted to yell back, “Got it the FIRST time!”
Both script and this production veer toward melodrama as Cephas’ character finally hits bottom. And does the moral of Pattie Mae’s story really boil down to “Don’t get above your raising,” as it seems to? The playwright frames an almost too-soft landing for both central characters as he muses, gently, on the incremental progress experienced by so many families during the Great Migration. Though the pavement of Williams’ script is broken and the ride is bumpy in places, eventually it leads his characters home.