Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, under the inspired direction of Tim Rhoze, delivers a relevant, tender and moving rendition of “Home,” written by famed playwright Samm-Art Williams. It tells the story of Cephus Miles, a spirited young farmer from Cross Roads, North Carolina, who never loses heart despite profound personal loss, crippling racism and a life spent looking for a soft place to land in an inhospitable world.
The action begins with thematic undertones that repeat during the performance. Wade in the Water (a spiritual whose composer is unknown) in haunting acapella foreshadows the heartbreak and insurmountable hardships ahead for Cephus. But it also foretells healing and renewal.
The program finishes a four-week run with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. on Feb. 20 and 27 at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. For more information visit the Fleetwood-Jourdain web site. Tickets can be purchased here.
Williams wrote “Home” in 1978, and it was first produced by the renowned Negro Ensemble Company in New York City. This ambitious one-act play begins in the segregated South and stretches through the Civil Rights movement into the 1970s. Lewon Johnson’s portrayal of Cephus as a teenager through adulthood is authentic and convincing. The humanity Johnson breathes into playwright Williams’ poetic and jazzy dialog is alive with spirit.
Of the play’s 24 characters, the other 23 are shared between two dynamic actors. Rachel Blakes plays Pattie Mae, Cephus’ lost love and heroine, as well as several other crucial female parts ranging in ages from teens to 40. Similarly, Tuesdai B. Perry plays a host of strong, spirited women and a 14-year-old boy.
The stage is set simply: three platforms with no props. There are no entrances or exits by the actors, rather, the platforms are intermittently lit to denote place and character shifts. There are no wardrobe changes denoting character transitions. Blake and Perry revisit a variety of characters along the way, and both do a fantastic job.
A couple of the character transitions are tricky to follow, but it took little from the entirety of the performance. Be prepared to step into the gestalt, knowing that Cephus’ journey is the sum of every character, and enjoy the ride.
The play is written with poetry and dialogue, which often blend beyond distinction and flow easily. Kara Roseborough’s choreography exceeds expectation. The natural rhythms expressed with dance and body percussion are as beautiful to watch as they are to hear.
The story begins and ends on Cephus’ front porch, the site of his courtship and reunion with Pattie Mae, the first and only woman he loved. Cephus has inherited his cherished family farm after both his grandfather and Uncle Lewis passed away. His parents have long been deceased. He enjoys a deep, reverent love of the land and farming is his life’s work: “When you hold a plant, you can feel the heartbeat of God. I will never leave it.”
When he is forced to leave it, everything changes for him.
Cephus is not a religious man, but he does seem to believe in God, albeit a God “on vacation in Florida” who “never answers the phone” and apparently is too busy to bother with him. Still, he keeps a running dialog with his absent God, and throughout much of the story demonstrates a jovial, if not grateful, spirit.
Heartache comes early when Pattie Mae goes off to college and marries another. Soon after, Cephus is drafted into the Vietnam but is constitutionally incapable of killing. He refuses to serve and is subsequently jailed as a conscientious objector. He spends the next five years in prison, lost to sorrow and degradation.
By depicting Cephus as a conscientious objector, Williams uses his art as political commentary. Historically, Black men were drafted into Vietnam in significantly greater numbers than whites and comprised a greater percentage of frontline troops. Cephus tells a different story and in the end lands on the right side of history.
When Cephus gets out of prison, he is unable to find work because no one will hire him. He loses his farm to back-taxes, so he decides to head north to a big city. Over the next eight years, he tries to right himself, but with no social or personal support, loses himself to drinking, drugs and women. Cephus hits a very low bottom – alone, penniless and heartbroken. But even at his lowest, he can still conjure up the deep love he felt for Pattie Mae, a love that will unfold with grace.