Samm-Art Williams’s 1980 Tony Award-nominated play Home spans three decades in the life of Cephus Miles, recounting episodes in a rhythmically poetic way, through songs and spun yarns. In International City Theatre’s current production of Home, we glide through Cephus’s life on a magic carpet of words with three actors who brilliantly embody their characters.
A beautifully simple set (designed by Tesshi Nakagawa) of Cephus’s wooden home in North Carolina, inherited from his grandfather and complete with rocking chair, serves as backdrop for the entire play.
Cephus’s idyllic farm life in this setting is interrupted by the Vietnam War, during which he is imprisoned for refusing the draft, citing the biblical tenet not to kill. His farm sold in pieces while he’s in jail, Cephus finds his way to an unnamed northern city, only to be broken by its coldness.
While Home is synopsized as Cephus’s journey, it’s the audience that’s taken on that journey through winding tales, rhythmic language and emotive songs. Rich wording contrasts the bucolic world of Crossroads, North Carolina– with its fertile, black soil and Friday fish fries– with the northern city buzzing with the electricity of jazz and blues, but cold, hard and lonely.
That only three actors carry this wide-ranging story is remarkable, a testament to their talents and direction by Gregg T. Daniel.
Donathan Walters as Cephus is a joy to watch. He adroitly plays an exuberant young man in love with the soil, a girl and life itself, and the older, wizened man who returns home after barely surviving life’s turbulence.
Two female actors play, incredibly, all the remaining roles, including children, grandmothers and aunts, girlfriends, guy friends, jailers and bartenders. Angela K. Thomas, simply called Woman One in the program, has an extended role as Patty, the girl Cephus loves who leaves for college in Virginia before they can marry.
Leilani Smith is remarkably fluid as Woman Two, shifting easily and believably among a host of characters. While both women sing amazingly well, Smith’s speaking cadence is clearly suited to the numerous characters she often enlivens with dry humor.
Through the vivid writing and passionate performances of Home, we experience the heart and soul of one simple man who, like most of us, is tossed far and wide by life. If we’re lucky, we’re allowed to return to the place, or just the feeling, called “home.”
ICT’s Home continues at the Beverly O’Neill Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way, through Nov. 5, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $47 to $49. For tickets and information, call the ICT box office at (562) 436-4610 or visit ictlongbeach.org.