Samm-Art Williams’s Home, first produced in 1979 with the seminal Negro Ensemble Company and then in a Tony-nominated run on Broadway in 1980, is considered a contemporary American classic, but it doesn’t get revived as much as it probably should. This feels especially self-evident when viewing Tim Rhoze’s stellar production for Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre. Staged simply around a series of three platforms with some shadowy projections on the rear wall, Rhoze and his three-member cast unfold the beating heart of Williams’s story with precision and warmth.
Through 6/19: Sat 7 PM, Sun 3 PM; Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, fjtheatre.com, $25.
Cephus Miles (Lewon Johnson), a young Black man in 1960s rural North Carolina, finds himself caught up in a series of upheavals (the death of his grandfather and uncle, the loss of the love of his life, imprisonment for defying his draft notice) that drive him north. “Get on the next thing smoking and move to the concrete,” he’s advised.
But what’s fascinating in Williams’s story is that it turns the Great Migration narrative inside out. There isn’t much warmth in the urban sun for Cephus, and his record as an ex-con (no matter how noble the reasons for his resistance) haunts him. (Williams was once a sparring partner for famous conscientious objector Muhammad Ali.) Johnson does a beautiful job embodying the growing anguish of Cephus, as well as his joy and pride in being a good farmer, like his ancestors, and his sheer delight in sharing anecdotes about the folks back home. Rachel Blakes and Tuesdai B. Perry skillfully play a variety of other characters, and Rhoze’s adept staging brings a dreamlike choreopoem feel to several interludes. It’s absolutely absorbing, thought-provoking, and moving throughout.