Playwright Javon Johnson is a force to be reckoned with. A protégée of the famed August Wilson, Johnson gained notice last season for his stirring play, Hambone, which played at Studio Theatre. This season, Johnson has returned to the Studio, bringing with him the powerful Runaway Home.
It is 1981 and Ronald Reagan is president. Lionel Ritchie plays on the radio and MTV is starting to become a household name. All the while, BettyAnn works, worries and raises her five children. She is a single mother, trapped in a situation she didn't ask for. Yet she does the best she can. And BettyAnn is not without her suitors. However, they hold little interest for her until one very special man from her past re-enters her life. Now she has a decision to make - continue in her present circumstances or endeavor to begin a different journey.
Like Hambone, Johnson has pulled material from his own life. The play is set in his hometown, Anderson, South Carolina, and BettyAnn and her brood are based on Johnson's own aunt and her family. Runaway Home is a dramatic piece that explores both financial and emotional hardship, as well as self-fulfillment and love. However, this piece is not one-dimensional. Johnson has woven wonderfully entertaining anecdotes throughout the piece. He adds just the right touch of humor and the play benefits greatly for it.
Johnson has teamed up again with his Hambone director, Regge Life. Mr. Life has directed this play with care and it is obvious that he has a deep understanding of the piece.
Javier D. Brown and Christopher Gallant, III, play BettyAnn's youngest sons, Tee Tee and Junebug. Although their ages combined could not add up to more than 25, these two young men have a professional air that is quite impressive. Both boys deliver wonderful performances and hold their own against their older cast mates.
The cast as a whole is excellent. Cleo Reginald Pizana (Big Eddie) and Frederick Strother (Thomas) are very strong as BettyAnn's intrepid suitors. Brandon J. Price, Ashley Blaine Featherson and Edwina Findley are equally skillful as BettyAnn's three oldest children.
The set design by Daniel L. Conway conjures emotions of its own. Looking at it, one instantly feels a sense of hope mixed with a touch of sadness. Reggie Ray's costumes capture the time period expertly and at times can be quite fun.
Every element of Runaway Home works. Now, with this most recent play under his belt, we can only hope that Javon Johnson continues to favor Washington audiences with his work. Runaway Home runs through February 16th.
The Studio Theatre
BettyAnn Moore: Rosalyn Coleman