The stage is relatively bare, a number of graying crates surrounding the wooden platform — the bare prop stands in the center, an old rocking chair in which a farmer broods and laments.
“Home” debuted at the International City Theatre on Oct. 20, and concluded the venue’s 2017 season with an epic retelling of an African-American farmer living in North Carolina during the ‘50s. The play follows Cephus Miles (Donathon Walters) through his childhood in Cross Roads, North Carolina, where he was raised by his Gramps and uncle on a tobacco farm. “Home” discusses ideas of American nationalism, segregation and religion through the narration of Cephus’ life in the South and details the story of a man who lost his sense of home, only to find it again.
The play begins with Cephus as an old man sitting in the center of the stage, arms crossed and shoulders rigid while he sits in his rocking chair, motionless. Cephus is immediately revealed as the topic of small town gossip as two young girls (Angela K Thomas and Leilani Smith) speak in whispers about the Godless, unpatriotic man who stays in his house moping everyday following the war.
Following its opening scene, “Home” goes on to detail various chapters of Cephus’ life. His love for working the earth on his family’s tobacco farm is addressed early in the work, his bond with soil and farming integral to his character. This connection to the earth serves as a grounding theme throughout performance.
Though I originally left the show feeling underwhelmed by what I thought to be a dated storyline of a man losing everything, only to gain it all back through his perseverance — I learnt that “Home” is not simply a play running at the ICT, but it is a reflection of the African American community within Long Beach. “Home” is meant to be indicative of cultural values that myself, an outsider, would not completely grasp.
However, these themes of Southern farm life and Christianity were not totally lost — especially when considering the unmistakably human portrayal of Cephus by Walters. Cephus’ easy-going character is always spinning off long-winded stories to the audience, and at many points throughout the play, we were connected in our laughter through these albeit cheesy moments.
More than a comedy, though, “Home” strives to address ideas of American nationalism. At the start of the Vietnam War, Cephus has already lost his childhood sweetheart (Thomas) after she leaves Cross Roads for college in Baltimore. He grieves on the land that he’s inherited from his deceased Grandfather and Uncle while keeping up the annual harvest of tobacco.
Once the draft begins, however, Cephus refuses his call to arms by citing biblical commandments. He screams, “What about ‘Thou Shall Not Kill?’” after his family’s land is taken by the federal government and he is imprisoned for draft evasion. During his imprisonment, Cephus dreams of his sweetheart, Pattie May and is simultaneously driven into a desperate contempt against God for abandoning him. After being released from prison, Cephus is ostracized by his hometown because of his perceived lack of nationalism and status as a war criminal. He flees to a big, bustling and unnamed city in the North but falls into addiction after losing his job.
In the end, a romantic twist draws Cephus and Pattie May back together again in their original home of Cross Roads.
The play featured only three actors, two of which (Thomas and Smith) changed characters at a rapid fire pace. The interactions among the characters were spirited and indicative not only of time period, but also the geographic location of Cross Roads.
Because of this, the performance is filled with cultural richness through its detailing of the experiences of numerous African American characters living in the South.
“Home” will show at the International City Theatre through Nov. 5 with Wednesday through Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances at 2 p.m.Tickets can be purchased for $49 online or by calling the box office at (562) 436-4610.