The Justice Theater Project will stage Home, a 1979 play by 65-year-old Burgaw, NC-born African-American playwright and screenwriter Samm-Art Williams, on June 10-12, 17-19, and 24-26 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, NC.
“I first read Home many years ago for personal leisure,” remembers director Sean A. Brosnahan. “A friend of mine I had done some stage work with shortly after college had remarked it was a personal favorite, and highly recommended I give it a read.”
Brosnahan days, “I remember being struck by the beauty of the narrative; [and] the way Samm-Art Williams threads dialog, commentary, narration, and poetry into one seamless piece of theatrical art. Years later, when approached by [Justice Theater Project] artistic director Deb Royals-Mizerk to direct the piece; and upon re-reading it, I’m still equally as blown away by its beauty.”
Sean Brosnahan adds, “I’ve had many wonderful opportunities as an actor to work with The Justice Theater Project over the last 10 years or so, but this is my first opportunity to work alongside them in a directorial fashion. It wouldn’t have mattered which script the company asked me to direct, I would have jumped at the opportunity.
“This theater company is unlike any in the Triangle,” claims Brosnahan, “unlike any I’ve worked with anywhere, really. Their mission to spread social awareness concerning injustices through theatrical means is a mission of great importance to our theater community. They’ve tackled tough topics through the years, from the death penalty to immigration, and all the way I’ve had the pleasure of being involved. The fact that the piece I was offered, Home, is so beautifully crafted is simply icing on the cake for me.”
Brosnahan says, “[Home] chronicles the story of Cephus Miles (played by Joseph Callender), an African-American male who grows up in the rural, fictional town of Crossroads, North Carolina in the 1950s. Cephus, his uncle, and grandfather are farm workers; and they spend their lives out on the land, working in the hot North Carolina sun, day in and day out.
“Cephus spends his entire teenage years courting the love of his life, Pattie-Mae Wells (Rasool Jahan), and as they grow up together, make plans to be wed. But as everyone knows,” Brosnahan says, “life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope for. Cephus loses his grandfather to heat stroke, and loses the love of his life to college. He continues on, working as he always has, until one day the U.S. Army, the Draft, and the Vietnam War come calling him to duty.
“Cephus [is] fearful of the war, and [he cites] his faith and upbringing which has always instructed him that he ‘Shalt not kill’; [they] lead him to draft dodge. These events begin to spin his life out of control, and the audience gets to follow him through a whirlwind of shocking events and stories.
“Rasool Jahan and fellow actress Joy Williams each play a number of roles in this piece, adding layers and flavors to the story of Cephus’ journey,” adds Brosnahan. “These two ladies are incredibly gifted, beautiful actors, and are pouring their hearts and souls into each and every one of their characters.”
Originally produced in 1979 by the Negro Ensemble Company, Home made its Broadway debut, directed by Douglas Turner Ward, on May 7, 1980 at the Cort Theatre, where it played for 278 performances before closing on Jan. 4, 1981. Home was nominated for the 1980 Tony Award® for Best Play and 1980 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play.
In addition to director Sean Brosnahan, The Justice Theater Project’s creative team for Home includes choreographer Joy Williams, technical director Tom Wolf, technical assistant Andrew LaPointe, scenographer Shannon Clark, costume designer Nora Murphy, and stage manager Emma Elsea.
Scenographer Shannon Clark says, “The set is really simple. The action moves in a dreamlike timeline, so the set is minimal. We are using a flooring that is similar to the heart of pine plank floors in traditional North Carolina farm houses. White tendo cloth will be used as a projection surface, with images from North Carolina to convey time and place.”
Clark adds, “The costumes are neutral in palette and … utilize[e] a base to which costume pieces are added and subtracted. The actors never leave the stage, so it’s imperative that costume ‘changes’ do not slow the action.”
Director Sean Brosnahan notes, “This piece was originally intended for a more standard proscenium staging. We are choosing to set up a more intimate, three-quarters thrust staging, with the audience right up on the action. The actors play a number of roles, and the audience will get to watch them transform from one to the other in front of their eyes, with minimal costume or prop changes to aid them. It’s quite a workout for [Rasool] Jahan and [Joy] Williams, and they have continued to impress me with every rehearsal.
“We hit a slight roadblock early on when our leading man, Joseph Callender, blew his knee out playing baseball prior to the start of rehearsal,” Brosnahan reveals. “Joseph has been progressing at an incredible rate; and quite frankly, I can’t stop him from moving about with a pace and flexibility that a man half his age with two good knees would have! He’s incredibly dedicated to this script, and to this ensemble, and has been a pleasure to work with.”
Brosnahan adds, “Home brings to a close The Justice Theater Project’s [2010-11 “Making Community Family and the Common Good”] season. Preshow discussions [at 7:30 p.m.] on June 11th and 17th will be facilitated by Uniting NC [http://www.unitingnc.org/], and will encourage the audience to think of a time when they felt displaced, new, or not at home. This mirrors Cephus’ journey away from the farm, and what he learns during his travels and efforts to find his place in the world.”
The Justice Theater Project presents HOME at 8 p.m. June 10, 11, 17, 18, 19, 24, and 25 and 2 p.m. June 12, 19, and 26 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.
TICKETS: $15 ($12 students and seniors), except $8 matinee on June 12th.
BOX OFFICE: 919/264-7089 or http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/eventSearch.jsp?event_id=9796.
NOTE 1: There will be a complimentary opening-night reception after the June 10th performance.
NOTE 2: At 7:30 p.m. on June 11th and 17th, there will be preshow discussions facilitated by Uniting NC (http://www.unitingnc.org/).
NOTE 3: On June 19th, SEED Raleigh (http://www.Seedraleigh.org/) will provide FREE babysitting services for the first 20 children registered.
NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. June 26th performance.
The Play: http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=10194 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samm-Art_Williams (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8587 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0931638/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.