November 11, 2010 – December 19, 2010
by Samm-Art Williams
directed by Ron OJ Parson
Originally produced by the legendary Negro Ensemble Company in 1981, Home is an enduring and poetic story of hope and the resiliency of the human spirit told against the backdrop of the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s. In 2008, Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson) directed an Audelco Award-winning production of Home at Signature Theatre Company in New York, which the New York Times called “a portrait of the black experience…that finds a homey beauty not in suffering but in carrying on.”
Home is the journey of Cephus Miles, a South Carolina farmer who begins the story as a teenager and ends the play at forty. At the top of the play Cephus tells us that he is a Christian man, that he believes in God, but can’t get in touch with him—for God has gone on vacation to Miami. Cephus inherits farm land from his Grandfather and Uncle, whose struggles through slavery he’s been fortunate enough to evade. Now, in his life time, all Cephus wants is to keep this land, to honor his lineage, his grandpa and Uncle Lewis, with a good, hardworking life. This is Cephus’s American identity, his American dream.
But while Cephus wants only to stay on his land, ambition drives the people around him. Cephus’s girlfriend leaves for school in Virginia, and soon enough visits home to him are replaced by ill-boding vacations to Baltimore—with her new fiancé. Always, a voice around him beckons him to abandon the hard won prize of his family—his land—and tells him to go to a place where “the subway rolls.” Cephus answers faithfully to the memory of his Uncle Lewis, but when he opens his front door it’s Uncle Sam knocking with a draft induction. He refuses to go and finds himself in a North Carolina prison, cursing the God that took off to Miami.
Five years later, Cephus is released, a draft-dodger. While away, he receives a letter from his Aunt saying taxes are too much, his land has been sold. Property-less, a traitor, abandoned by his one time sweetheart, Cephus finally gives into the call of the rolling trains. He moves to a “very, very big city,” the Promised Land, clickity-clack, clickity-clack. Soon he’s employed loading trucks, a job that lands him a love affair and some pocket change—until his employee discovers his record. The city moves at a pitch he can’t begin to keep up with, and his luck shifts just as quickly. Single again and out of a job, he picks up what welfare he can get and takes to the streets. The smell of the Promised Land, no longer the sweet earth of his home, is now the frost in his mouth. He spirals downward and feels the freezing burn of starvation, drugs, homelessness, and isolation. Until one day welfare presents Cephus with a lost letter in which he finds his ticket home, a chance to get back to South Carolina. A chance to see if God’s come back from his vacation.
First performed by New York’s Negro Ensemble Company in 1979, Home was conceived by Samm-Art Williams as a play rich in content but simple in form, something that could be performed in the street, if necessary. As such, the play is performed by only three actors—one man playing Cephus Miles, and two virtuoso women playing the myriad other characters in Cephus’s life. Using bold but simple theatrical gestures, the actors in Home glide from one setting to the next as they recreate the story of Cephus Miles.
Art by Daniel Minter.