Tuesday, December 9, 2008



By Samm-Art Williams. Directed by Ron OJ Pearson. At the Signature Theatre. Thru January 11th.

If we had to summarize the critical response to Home—Signature Theatre Co.'s second installment in their survey of the work of the Negro Ensemble Company—it would be respectful. Samm-Art Williams' play, which documents two decades in the life of a man named Cephus as he grows from teenager to imprisoned pacifist draft-dodger to a grown man, was nominated for the Tony for Best Play after running on Broadway for 250 performances. Reviewers are grateful to have it come back, but some note cobwebs of sentimentality here and there and a pat ending. Everyone loves the performances, particularly Kevin T. Carroll, who last wowed audiences (and me) at Signature in Seven Guitars.

CurtainUp A
(Simon Saltzman) The Signature Theatre Company could not have picked a sweeter play to be part of its season-long celebration of the historic Negro Ensemble Company. For the most part audiences at the Peter Norton Space will be delighted by the three terrific actors, playing more than twenty-five characters, who are bringing a joyful exuberance to Samm-Art Williams's nearly 30 year-old play.

Talkin' Broadway A-
(Matthew Murray) This is a work of symphonic scope capable of putting most current Broadway musicals to shame...the rhythm of Williams’s storytelling shimmers still, resounding even now with the piercing trebles, throbbing basses, and infectious drum beats of a tale that needs to be told: of achievement, of loss, and ultimately of redemption. Home unfolds as a quartet of movements, each adding new layers of melody and dissonance to this engaging, mini-epic chronicle of modern African-American evolution

The New York Times B+
(Charles Isherwood) Interspersed with the scenes and monologues are passages of lyric scene setting that pulse with the rhythms of jazz, blues and spirituals. All three performers are comfortably in tune with the musical cadences of this language. With Mr. Williams they conjure a portrait of black experience in the second half of the last century that finds a homey beauty not in suffering but in carrying on, waiting for the pain to pass and hoping for something better around the next corner.

Backstage B+
(Andy Propst) Lyrical, genuinely sentimental, and filled with a terrific social consciousness...Williams gives Cephus' tale a sepia-toned warmth and an emotionally harrowing coolness. Director Ron OJ Parson's sure-handed production navigates the play's dual tones and shifts in periods with ease on a handsomely evocative wood-slatted unit set from designer Shaun Motley.

(Matt Windman) Though its original production transferred to Broadway in 1979 for a successful run, Home is rarely produced nowadays because it is so quaint and riddled with clich├ęs. Luckily, Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre Company, as part of its season-long tribute to the Negro Ensemble Company, has brought back “Home” in a surprisingly strong production.

Associated Press B+
(Michael Kuchwara) In 1980, Home made its way from the NEC to Broadway where it ran for more than 250 performances and was nominated for a best-play Tony. You can see why in this excellent Signature re-examination of the play, featuring a trio of accomplished actors, Kevin T. Carroll, January LaVoy and Tracey Bonner... A natural storyteller, Williams has a gift for creating memorable portraits, vivid pictures of specific people who meet Cephus on his travels to self-awareness and maturity.

Time Out NY B+
(Raven Snook) Samm-Art Williams’s 1979 Tony-nominated play about the trials and tribulations of a black everyman has its stale points—his wide-eyed awe at discovering his small North Carolina hometown has become integrated seems a bit quaint. But its optimistic where-the-heart-is message is just as moving as it must have been three decades ago...Home is funny, poignant and, yes, uplifting.

Bloomberg News B+
(Jeremy Gerard) Williams, an actor-turned-playwright, has two women play all of the roles except Cephus, allowing Tracy Bonner and January LaVoy plenty of opportunity to strut their stuff as children, farm girls, slick city women and hustling men; LaVoy also plays the ever-devoted Pattie Mae, and she’s enchanting. As Cephus, Kevin T. Carroll has youthfulness but doesn’t quite show the toll fortune has taken on him. Nevertheless, Parson keeps the energy level high throughout the nearly two intermissionless hours and the design team--Shaun Motley (set), Michael Chybowski (lighting) and Ilona Somogyi (costumes)--recreate the rough-hewn simplicity of the original show.

Theatermania B-
(Patrick Lee) The story's simple home-spun truths are weakened by a pat conclusion that also limits an emotional payoff. Cephus' almost miraculous twist of fate may be one with the play's world view, but it makes for anti-climactic drama. Still, even if the final destination of Home may disappoint, there's plenty of beauty in the journey.

Variety B-
(Peter Norton) Modern auds experiencing the new production -- beautifully designed by Shaun Motley -- may waver between genuinely liking the play and genuinely trying to like it, but Kevin T. Carroll's surefooted turn as the central troubled everyman will likely turn fence-sitters toward Home... there's not much to Home besides nostalgia... the best thing about Home is Carroll. This much unself-conscious sentiment has to be sold with utter sincerity and Carroll gives the play unshakable credibility right up to its final, tearful reunion.

CU A 13; TB A- 12; NYT B+ 11; AMNY b+ 11; Backstage B+ 11; AP B+ 11; TONY B+ 11; Bloomberg B+ 11; TM B- 9; Variety B- 9; TOTAL: 109/10= 10.9 (B+)

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