Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Word for Word Performing Arts Company
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of English and The Triumph of Love

Brennan Pickman-Thoon, Tre’Vonne Bell,
Brian Rivera, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, Robert Ernst,
Norman Gee, and JoAnne Winter

Photo by Jay Yamada
War changes people. Sometimes it brings out the best in them: heroism, selflessness, a commitment to duty. Some it merely scars, leaving them wounded in ways that may not be visible in the way missing limbs are, but still forever changed. In Word for Word Performing Arts Company's production of George Saunders' short story, Home, Mikey (Brian Rivera, who was such a force in The Great Khan), recently returned from a mideastern war, has been changed by it. But whether it stirred something brave and generous in him or merely imprinted painful memories he will never erase is still to be determined.

Coming home, Mikey discovers that he isn't the only person who has changed. His mother (Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe) has a new beau in her life, a rather seedy codger named Harris (played by Robert Ernst), and the house has the air of a hoarder's den. Though the set by Mikiko Uesugi, is very spare–a simple platform with steps on either end and space for baskets filled with props underneath–director Sheila Balter manages, via some clever stagecraft, to suggest a level of chaos.

Mom, who has a reputation for being a tad profane at times, is now working for a church (which she rarely fails to mention) and has begun substituting "beep" or "beeping" any time she wants to swear, a technique that I believe might work better on the page than it does on stage. (Which brings me to a bit of explanation about the format of Word for Word's shows: true to their name, every word of a short story is spoken, including all the descriptions and indications of dialogue, but they are staged just as a play would be.)

As the story goes on, Mikey discovers even more changes to the world he left behind. His ex-wife Renee (Lisa Hori-Garcia) has remarried and her new man, Ryan (Tre'Vonne Bell), is helping her raise Mikey's kids, plus a new baby. Soon Mikey learns–through the arrival of a sheriff–that his mother is well behind on the rent and about to be evicted. Her insistence that she "works for a church" has no effect on the sheriff, and the family is put out on the street.

Though Home is a tough story about people going through hard times (at least Mikey and his mother and Harris–sister Renee and her husband Ryan seem to be doing just fine), director Balter and her cast are able to milk the satirical humor hiding in Saunders's text. Everyone seems to be thanking Mikey "for your service," so much so that it becomes (as it seems have become in our world) almost an automatonic response that tries to seem sincere but always seems to come across as lip service. Brennan Pickman-Thoon, who plays multiple roles, gives the ultimate unctuous delivery of the line as a clerk in a store selling a technological device of vague utility.

There are some terrific performances here. Brian Rivera is able to present a calm demeanor (and the joy of homecoming), while still giving us glimpses of the regrets and rage that lie just under his calm mien. He has a bulk that is intimidating, but imbues his character with a manner that is (mostly) gentle. Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe is wonderful as Mikey's mother, presenting a woman who feigns confidence, yet whose face often shows the terror she must be feeling as her life begins to come apart.

The sound design by Cliff Caruthers is fantastic, reinforcing the horrors of war (especially in the prelude scene of Mikey and his compadres on patrol) and generally enriching the story on multiple levels.

Home is a brief evening of theatre (the show runs just over an hour), but it fills a lot in that short time, thanks to a skilled cast under the sure hand of a terrific director.

Word for Word Performing Arts Company;s Home runs through April 29, 2023, at Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. There is also a 3:00 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 22. Tickets range from $40-$65. For tickets and information, please visit or by calling 415-626-0453.