|The Cast of Home|
Say the word “home;” and for most of us a flood of both current realities and long-past memories come to mind along with a host of trite but true phrases we oft hear repeated in our own heads: “Home is where the heart is;” “Home sweet home;” “Oh Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.” Pictures of family members present and past, the kitchen table the way mom used to set it, the number of ceiling tiles above our bed when we were kids, the smell of dad’s Old Spice, and the sound of the robin outside every morning’s spring window – these and hundreds of other images may pop into any of our heads just at the mention of that one word “home.”
The skeletal house that eventually becomes a home is the setting for Geoff Sobelle’s highly imaginative, magically constructed, and deeply affecting touring show, Home, now landing on the Roda stage of Berkeley Repertory Theatre. A play with no plot and almost no spoken words is instead a collage of a two-story abode’s collection of past and present inhabitants -- all coming and going as they co-exist in their every day activities, in their celebrations, and in their times of birth and death. Passing each other as ghosts in the night, theirs is a highly coordinated, mesmerizing, and oft-humorous dance of juxtaposed daily living where folding clothes, making coffee, brushing teeth, or setting the table become scenes we as an audience are frozen in fascinated gaze, wonder, and amusement.
The show’s creator himself, Geoff Sobelle, opens the evening meticulously and slowly unfolding and stapling plastic sheeting to a flimsy framework of wood, the kind that eventually will become a strong wall. Watching him as he goes about his silent task, we begin to understand that a sudden, audible exhale; a glance toward of us with a silent, shrugged “Should I?” or of background music where pulsating notes punctuated with occasional clangs become the sounds of construction – these are going to be the dialogue of this play that is in many ways unlike any we have ever seen before.
As the plastic-covered frame is finally raised and moves back and forth across the stage, the furnishings of rooms and the people inside them begin to appear. Step-by-by a house is fully constructed by a host of workers who then become the years upon years of inhabitants with boxes who move into the house, over and again through all those years that the house has ever existed.
Lee Sunday Evans directs Home with incredibly intricate orchestration among the cast of eight as they become members of this house’s history. Individuals of various ages, races, and states of dress/undress turn corners to hand off a coffee cup, a box, or a hat without looking and seeing another present/past/future inhabitant, who then takes the object and goes on with the day’s or night’s normal activities. The director inserts repeated touches of Steve Cuiffo’s planned illusions where a boy might become a man become a woman become again the boy – all as they enter and exit the same door or as they get in a bed and turn under a sheet before rising again as another person.
Dressing, undressing, and dressing again become choreographed mixtures of different people in the same room where an opened closet door may become an entrance for three or four people to back out in parallel stances and actions as they are donning their clothes for the new day’s activities. David Neumann aids the director in choreographing movements that flow seamlessly with people passing on the narrow stairs without seeing each other, suddenly to turn away and recede into other hidden parts of the house, only to emerge somewhere unexpected – like maybe through a refrigerator door now opened by someone looking for a midnight snack.
|Sophie Bortolussi, Jennifer Kidwell & Geoffe Sobelle|
Even the activities we all do every morning upon rising – making our bed, trudging to the bathroom, relieving ourselves in the toilet, showering, putting on make-up – these all become the steps of a day’s dance we see carried out in a bathroom that hilariously becomes as crowded as a New York subway. As more and more people rise from the same bed, those same people enter and exit a shower, with the quick swish of a curtain revealing another naked body different from the one that last entered. And in the end, it all seems so natural, mundane, and totally wonderful. Such it is when we too begin to feel this is our home, and we almost remember being a part of it.
|Geoff Sobelle, Justin Rose, David Rukin & Sophie Bortolussi|
The lighting design of Christopher Kuhl plays a major role in the magic of life unfolding before us. As one light in a room goes off, another in the floor above comes on, maybe at the same time one kitchen drawer closes and one bedroom closet door opens. The instantaneous coordination of unrelated events in various rooms of the two floors lead to mini-scenes of people’s lives that often tell a short, recognizable story of a person’s grief, another’s anxiety, or a third’s excitement. Sometimes these different vignettes occur in the same moment, parallel glances of different scenes of the house’s history. At other times, Christopher Kuhl’s lighting focuses our undivided attention on one particular moment -- maybe mundane, maybe moving -- of someone’s life.
Lighting through windows beautifully fades the day and then welcomes the morning, with the in-between darkened night at one point being the only inhabitant of a now-empty house. The sound design of Brandon Wolcott provides those inside and outside, nighttime noises that become a chirping, creaking orchestra for someone to hear, if only the house itself.
A young boy (David Rukin) with a bottle of wine breaks suddenly the fourth wall and brings an invitation to a lady in the audience that she cannot resist. What follows in the last thirty or forty of the night’s one hundred-plus minutes (no intermission) is an orchestrated chaos of flowing activities and events from both a year’s and a life’s cycles simultaneously play out before us. A myriad of seemingly old and new friends along with a mixture of families of many generations arrive, drink/eat, quarrel, sit in solitude, and eventually move out for good. And a house becomes in front of our eyes a rich bank of a home’s memories.
It seems inevitable that any audience member visiting Geoff Sobelle’s Home will have a similar experience as I did. More than once, I found my own set of memories blending into the scenes being staged before me -- memories of my home growing up with its delicious smells of my mom’s cooking, of my grandfather sitting in his rocker telling me a story, or of the home where my now-grown kids used to run through happily screaming like maniacs. Geoff Sobelle’s Home is a house so worth visiting at Berkeley Repertory Theatre as it opens up rooms in our own locked-away memories of the places where we have lived and where we also have hung pictures, greeted relatives, told a story before bedtime, or just brushed our teeth in welcome solitude.
Rating: 5 E
Home continues though April 21, 2019 on the Roda Stage of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. Tickets are available at http://www.berkeleyrep.org/ or by calling 510-647-2975 Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 7 p.m.
Photos by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre