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Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 5, 2024

Home by Samm-Art Williams. Directed by Kenny Leon. Set design by Arnulfo Maldonado. Costume design by Dede Ayite. Lighting design by Allen Lee Hughes. Sound design by Justin Ellington. Hair and wig design by Nikiya Mathis. Voice coach Kate Wilson.
Cast: Tory Kittles, Brittany Inge, and Stori Ayers.
Theater: Todd Haimes Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street (Between 7th and 8th Avenues)

Stori Ayers, Tory Kittles, and Brittany Inge
Photo by Joan Marcus
Enter the Roundabout Theatre Company's Todd Haimes Theatre these days, and you might think you wandered into a stripped-down production of Oklahoma!. The onstage backdrop has the look of the sweeping farmlands of the southern plains, a vast open territory where homesteads and neighbors are few and far between. Downstage is the suggestion of a front porch, a platform on which sits a wood rocking chair, as if awaiting the arrival of Aunt Eller. But look more closely, and you might notice that the crops growing behind that platform are not elephant's eye-high stalks of corn, but rather knee-high rows of tobacco plants. Even the sky itself has the brownish hue of a smoker's lungs. And we soon come to realize we are not in Oklahoma at all, but in rural North Carolina, the center of the revival of Samm-Art Williams' unassuming, big-hearted play Home.

You might think of Home, a Tony nominee for Best Play in 1980 when it was originally performed on Broadway, as a folk tale with roots in the Black farming community. But it's also a romance and a coming-of-age story: a little bit "Forrest Gump," a little bit campfire yarn, even a little bit "Candide," with a plethora of characters remarkably brought to life by a gifted cast of just three actors. Some of these characters come and go in a flash, but pretty much all of them are conjured up with such distinctive style that even if they are merely mentioned in passing early on, you'll remember them when they come around again much later in the one-act 90-minute play.

Meet Cephus Miles (Tory Kittles, a charmer you will be rooting for from the start). This is his story to tell, and he is more than delighted to share it, especially since he knows how it ends. But first, the beginning.

The play starts in the 1950s on the farm in the suitably named and very real place known as Cross Roads, North Carolina. Cephus is generally content with his life, living with and working alongside his grandfather and uncle and mostly staying out of trouble, despite his less than willing embrace of the rules. It is there that he first meets up with the love of his life, Pattie Mae Wells (Brittany Inge who, along with Stori Ayers, portrays and indelibly brings to life a multitude of characters who cross Cephus's path on the farm and, later, in a less welcoming big city).

But the road to love is full of potholes. There is Cephus' discordant relationship with God, whom he early on decides has taken a leave of absence and is "in Miami on vacation." This is something that does not sit well with the religious Pattie Mae nor with the rest of the community, whose efforts to save his soul he thwarts at every turn. Pattie Mae goes along with him up to a point, but after high school, she decides her life is leading her in another direction, and she's off to college and, after a while, into marriage with a rather more respectable man.

Meanwhile, the outside world intrudes more and more. We are now in the 1960s, and the draft board is very interested in young men like Cephus as the war in Vietnam demands its quota of soldiers. But despite his quarrel with the strictures of the church, there is one commandment he absolutely embraces, the one that says thou shalt not kill. "Conscientious objector" status being not easily available to Black men living in rural North Carolina, Cephus finds himself labeled a draft dodger and is sent to prison for his pains.

He eventually is freed under a general amnesty, but by then he is bereft not only of Pattie Mae but of the family farm, and he is considered an outcast by his former friends and neighbors, many of whom lost sons in that war. It seems that God's vacation has been extended indefinitely, as Cephus finds himself at the nadir of his life, one of the forgotten flotsam and jetsam lost in the maw of anonymity, uprooted and left to live or die in a big uncaring city.

Samm-Art Williams, the playwright, who passed away shortly before the opening of this revival and to whom the production is dedicated, does not balk at providing the context of harsh reality. But this is not his aim as it might be in the hands of a more strident writer. As with Candide or even Forrest Gump, it is not the vicissitudes of life that befall them we remember, but their fortitude and triumph over adversity. God may be on a hiatus, but the playwright is not, and after all is said and done, Home, directed in a most unassuming, unfussy way by Kenny Leon, is the most uplifting play to hit Broadway in a very long time.