Photo Flash: Lyrical, Uplifting HOME Tells its Story at International City Theatre
There's no place like home - at least according to playwright Samm-Art Williams. First produced to great acclaim by the Negro Ensemble Company, Williams' brilliantly inventive and lyrically expressive Home will run at International City Theatre from Oct. 20through Nov. 5, directed by Gregg T. Daniel. Two low-priced previews take place on Oct. 18 and Oct. 19.
Donathan Walters (Bars and Measures, Colony Collapse at Theatre @ Boston Court) plays "prodigal son" Cephus Miles, an orphan who leaves his family's farm in North Carolina to seek refuge and prosperity in the North.Leilani Smith (NAACP Best Ensemble Award-winning Flyin' West at ICT) and Angela K. Thomas (The Launch Prize at Bridge Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA; A Raisin in the Sun at Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, RI) portray more than 25 characters over the course of Cephus' epic journey from adolescence to adulthood, as he struggles to stay true to himself amid a rapidly changing and turbulent America. Spanning the 1950s through the Vietnam War and Civil Rights eras, heartbreaking hurdles and setbacks continuously obstruct his road to happiness. But Cephus perseveres and always manages to remain upbeat.
Williams, who was born in the small town of Burgaw, NC (population 1,700), was living on 47th Street in New York and the holidays were approaching when a longing for home inspired this play.
"The Vietnam War was raging at that particular time, so I wanted to do a positive play about a country character who was yearning for his home, as I was doing at Christmas," Williams said in an interview. "I drew on my experience growing up in the country - plowing mules, cropping tobacco, bootleggers, going to church. The rest was my imagination. I wanted to do something that could be performed on the streets - I love street theater. And I wanted my character to have a conscience."
"I saw the original Negro Ensemble Company production, and remember how it lit up Broadway - everybody was talking about it," says Daniel, who directed ICT's multiple award-winning production of Fences. "Home is essentially a love story between two people, but also with the land and small town culture. Most important, it's about learning to love oneself, about finding 'home' within us. When the characters finally learn to love themselves, they are able to accept the bounty and riches that have been given to them. It's a beautiful voyage of discovery."
The Negro Ensemble Company premiered Home at St. Mark's Playhouse in 1979. The production subsequently transferred to Broadway's Cort Theatre, where it received Tony Award and Drama Desk Award nomination for Best Play and garnered the Outer Critic's Circle's John Gassner Playwriting Award for Williams. Home was also the recipient of the NAACP Image Award and the North Carolina Governor's Award.
Samm-Art Williams is a playwright, screenwriter, producer and actor. In addition to Home, the Negro Ensemble Company produced three other plays by him: A Love Play; Welcome to Black River; and Eyes of the American. Additional plays include Woman from the Town, Cork, Brass Birds Don't Sing, Friends, In My Father's House, Home the Musical, Conversations on a Dirt Road, The Dance on Widows' Row, The Waiting Room and Revival. For the screen, Williams has written Solomon Northup's Odyssey (PBS), John Henry(Showtime), Badges (CBS), and episodes for Cagney and Lacey, The New Mike Hammer, Miami Vice and other programs. Williams was co-executive producer of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (NBC) and Hangin' with Mr. Cooper (ABC), executive producer of Martin (Fox) and Good News (UPN), and consulting producer of the Columbia Tri-Star talk show Vibe with host Sinbad. As a member of the Negro Ensemble Company's Acting Repertory, he performed in The First Breeze of Summer (Broadway), Eden, Nevis Mountain Dew, No-Where to Run...No-Where to Hide, Old Phantoms and The Brownsville Raid, and he has had roles in the feature films Blood Simple and Huckleberry Finn, among others. His television acting credits include Women of Brewster Place, Race to the Pole and Search for Tomorrow. He has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Playwriting, and the Roanoke Island Historical Association's Morrison Award. He is currently Artist in Residence at North Carolina Central University.
The creative team for Home includes set designer Tesshi Nakagawa, lighting designer Stacy McKenney, costume designer Kim DeShazo, sound designer Corwin Evans, props designers Patty and Gordon Briles, and hair and wigs designer Anthony Gagliardi. Casting is by Michael Donovan and the production stage manager is John H. Freeland, Jr.
Home runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Oct. 20 through Nov. 5. Two preview performances take place on Wednesday, Oct. 18 and Thursday, Oct. 19, both at 8 p.m. Tickets are $47 on Thursdays and Fridays, and $49 on Saturdays and Sundays, except for Oct. 20 (opening night) for which tickets are $55 and include a post show reception at Utopia Restaurant. Low-priced tickets to previews are $35. International City Theatre has formed a community partnership with the African American community in Long Beach to raise funds for college scholarships and to bring students to the production. A Community Partnership Package, which includes a pre-performance Gala dinner as well as the post-show reception with the actors on opening night, is $125; tables of ten are available for $1,200. Community Partnership chairs: Dr. Sharon Valear Robinson, Marva Lewis and Stevi Meredith.
International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 330 East Seaside Wayin Long Beach, CA 90802. For reservations and information, call 562-436-4610 or go to InternationalCityTheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Tracey Roman
Angela K. Thomas, Donathan Walters, Leilani Smith
Leilani Smith, Angela K. Thomas, Donathan Walters
Leilani Smith and Donathan Walters
Donathan Walters and Angela K. Thomas