Also see Sharon's review of Tender
Playwright Julie Shimer has a wonderful talent for writing what people say when they don't know what to say. Watch what happens in The Home when protagonist Regina, a seventeen-year-old pregnant girl in 1956, talks with her boyfriend the night before she leaves for a Catholic home for unwed pregnant girls. Regina and her boyfriend are young people who have gotten in way over their heads, and they don't have the maturity to tell each other what needs to be said. Shimer writes their scene entirely in subtext; we know everything we need to know by how they say the meaningless things they say instead of the important things they should.
And then this fine, precision dramatic work finds itself in ... The Facts of Life. OK, it's a 1956, Catholic, pregnant Facts of Life, but that doesn't change the fact that the bulk of Julie Shimer's The Home is most reminiscent of the 1980s TV series. Because when Regina finds herself on the doorstep of the home for unwed mothers, she is greeted by a group of girls who are not sedate, introspective girls reflecting on their pasts and struggling to come to terms with their futures. Instead, the girls are normal seventeen-year-olds, with an edge of rule-breaking to them. (Any Catholic girl who found herself unmarried and pregnant in 1956 can't have been a real firm believer in following rules.) Unburdened by the thoughts of raising their children - they all naturally assume they will give the babies up for adoption - they're simply waiting out their pregnancies by laughing together, playing cards, sneaking out, secretly smoking cigarettes, and playing tricks on the nuns who run the place. Within a short time of her arrival, once she gets past her "hick" image, Regina becomes one of them, and the bulk of the play is devoted to their girlish interactions.
It's somewhat disappointing that a play that was shaping up to be a wonderful drama turns itself into a glorified sitcom; even more so when the girls learn Important Lessons about how the nuns' rules are really imposed for Their Own Good. But what's worse is the crisp writing and performing that was so present in Regina's earlier scenes gives way to something which - although still quite good - is just a touch sloppier. The other girls' characters are not very well-defined; their costumes change every scene and it is sometimes difficult to tell which one was carrying which personality traits. The nuns (who are all dressed alike) are also poorly defined, and they have a goofy little running gag that doesn't really fit with their characters.
Some scenes are intentionally missing. We are told that Regina, unlike the other girls, wants to keep her baby. But what's missing is the scene where she tells the nuns of her choice. Frequently, there are references to discussions already had that, if they had taken place on stage, would have made this a much more powerful dramatic play. But Shimer hasn't chosen to take that route. In one place, however, Shimer is to be applauded for leaving a scene out. One of the best bits of writing in the play comes when one girl's backstory is hinted at, but never told. It's excellent playwriting - telling her story would have tied everything up in a nice neat little "Very Special Episode" package. But Shimer knows better than that; she is aiming for an accurate depiction of reality, and life has loose ends.
The entire play is told in flashback; a short scene from the present day bookends the play. This scene is more of the good stuff - Shimer's realistic dramatic writing delivered by an actress, Krista Conti, who puts it across naturally, as though the words are just coming to her.
There's no doubt that had Shimer chosen to write the entire play as a serious dramatic story, she would have had one hell of a tear-jerker on her hands. And although what she has chosen to write is instead a better-than-average piece of bittersweet comedy sprinkled with heartfelt moments, one can't help but wonder about the drama that could have been.
Anthony Barnao, Artistic Director and Blue Sphere Alliance present The Home. Written by Julie Shimer; Directed by Ann Partrich. Produced by Anastacia Speigel. Lighting Design Chris Capp; Set Design Burris Jackson; Sound Design Julie Shimer & Ann Partrich.
The Home plays at Blue Sphere Alliance at the Lex, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through September 3, 2003. For reservations and information, call (323) 957-5782.
Photo by Molly Fitzgerald