For some people, home means wherever they happen to be; one place is as good as another, so long as basic needs are met.
It’s a very different matter for Cephus Miles, the young farmer in North Carolina at the heart of “Home,” an unassuming play by Morgan State University alum Samm-Art Williams receiving a vibrant production from Rep Stage.
Cephus is as firmly rooted to what he calls “the fertile, pungent earth” as his crops. Why that attachment is so strong, and how it haunts him even after he ends up far away from his birthplace, is the focus in what becomes a kind of fable, really, complete with a moral or two.
Thanks to Williams’ eloquent writing, Cephus’ journey unfolds so earnestly and intriguingly that a couple of implausible plot-turns prove digestible enough. In the end, there’s a satisfying arc to the story, one that brings the audience back home right along with the lead character.
The play was originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company in New York in 1979, and earned a Tony Award nomination after its Broadway run the following year. The neatly crafted piece calls for only three actors and, in the space of a single act lasting about an hour and 45 minutes, digs into a lot of fertile issues.
Rich in detail about the African-American experience and universal in its reach, “Home” is concerned with what makes us human, what connects us to each other. It’s about the things that tempt and fool and scare, as well as the things that enrich and heal.
The action begins in the late 1950s in a rural spot called Cross Roads, where old practices and tales are still respected. Cephus is thrust into adulthood early — his parents died when he was young; the relatives who raised him are gone much too soon as well.
It’s enough to cause a young farmer to question all that devout faith expressed in church on Sundays. For Cephus, God seems to be “on vacation in Miami” most of the time. If that sort of thinking can make Cephus seem more a simpleton than a simple man, there is plenty of sense and substance in this guy.
Above all, he has an ability to hold on to something hopeful inside, even when his situation turns bleak as the years pass. His first love, Pattie Mae Wells (“She’s my soft summer day”), deserts him; his decision to refuse service in Vietnam (a development never persuasively explained) means jail time and rebuke; the bottle becomes a self-destructive lure after he winds up in big, bad New York.
But Cephus is not going to be defeated, at least not as long as he can recall the smell of the land and that soft summer day.
The finely matched, beautifully nuanced Rep Stage cast, directed fluidly by Duane Boutte, moves effortlessly through every corner of this in-the-round production.
Baltimore-born Robert Lee Hardy offers an impressive portrayal of Cephus, tapping into the man’s refreshing honesty and naivete.
Felicia Curry does a potent job as Pattie Mae, a woman who makes her own share of mistakes before feeling the homeward pull. Curry slips in and out of any number of other roles with finesse as well, and also reveals a particularly fine voice in the play’s affecting, song-filled passages.
The third role is identified merely as Woman Two, but that’s much too bland a description for Fatima Quander’s prismatic work playing several very distinct characters.
James Fouchard’s minimal set includes just a couple of props. But the actors, aided by the sensitive lighting (Dan Covey) and sound design (Neil McFadden), conjure up all sorts of atmospheric images with the simplest of means.