‘Home’ Broadway Review: How to Dismantle the Myth of the North SuperNayr

Samm-Art Williams passed away last month at age 78, and one of the sad ironies of his death is that he didn’t live to see Tory Kittles’ powerful performance in “Home.”

Williams’ 1979 play received its first Broadway revival on Wednesday at Roundabout’s Todd Haimes Theatre; it last appeared on the Big Boards back in 1980 after its world premiere the previous year at the Negro Ensemble Company. Having just concluded its 2023-24 season, Broadway continues to be awash with great performances, and to kick off the new season, Kittles now joins the stellar company of William Jackson Harper (“Uncle Vanya”), Sarah Pauley (“Appropriate”), Jessica Lange (“Mother Play”) and Jeremy Strong (“An Enemy of the People”).

Kittles plays Cephus Miles, a Black farmer living and working in Crossroads, North Carolina. We first meet Cephus in the middle of his years, pissed as hell but still brimming with life despite the early affliction of palsy, evidenced in the shaking of his right hand. In that first short scene, he’s surrounded by a couple of furies (Brittany Inge and Stori Ayers) who both goad and mock him as any good chorus should do.

Lindsay Mendez Jonathan Groff Daniel Radcliffe Merrily We Roll Along Broadway

Suddenly, the shaking in Cephus’ right hand stops, and Kittles, in a miracle of acting, takes us from a beaten middle-aged man to a Candide-like teenager who keeps repeating, “I love the land!”

And a beautiful land it is. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set design features a farm landscape that would be right at home in “The Wizard of Oz” if Dorothy’s Kansas had been shot not in black-and-white but Technicolor, and instead of fields of wheat there are rows and rows of tobacco and corn. Chephus appears to live a charmed pastoral existence in the segregated South that inspires a flood of stories
about bootlegging, gambling on white people’s tombs (because they’re flat), how to skin catfish, an amputee who plays the guitar with his stump and, of course, how Cephus loses his virginity in the hayloft with a very religious girl named Pattie Mae Wells (Inge).

That’s where all the trouble begins. Cephus isn’t religious, he doesn’t feel he needs to be saved, he isn’t ashamed for having sex with Pattie Mae and, most important, he continues to work the land he loves while his girlfriend goes off to college, where she promptly makes it clear, “I’ve outgrown you.”

"Home" on Broadway
“Home” on Broadway

From there, nothing goes right for Cephus and that includes his refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, his incarceration for five years and the loss of his farm. Eventually, Cephus escapes to the North where this “farmer boy” attempts to become a “city boy,” and he is told he can be a “free man or slave.”

It’s a time honored tradition in American literature and movies that the city equals bad and the country equals good. For Black people, the same can be said of North and South, but as Cephus learns, “The North is supposed to be good for you. I don’t want to damage the myth.”

Something else goes wrong in Williams’ story when this convention is observed. Cephus, once loquacious to the point of chattering, turns mute in Philadelphia and the chorus of two takes over to present a dizzying array of jaded urban types that include prostitutes, landlords, social workers and drug dealers. None of them are as interesting as the original land-loving Cephus.

Kenny Leon can take some credit for Kittles’ performance. His direction can also take some responsibility for often pushing Inge and Ayers to present some gross caricatures. If memory serves, the original “Home” chorus (L. Scott Caldwell and Michele Shay) handled these multiple assignments with far more finesse. On the plus side, Inge displays a gorgeous singing voice and Ayers is successful at bringing to life a toothless bus driver who takes Cephus back to the South and a soldier about to die on the battlefield.

Williams gives his hero an improbable old-fashioned Hollywood happy ending. It’s not so much fake as it is an act of charity by a playwright for a character that its maker clearly loves.

“Home” is now playing on Broadway after its Wednesday night opening.

Shaina Taub in "Suffs" (Credit: Joan Marcus)

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