I saw Jovelyn Richard’s play the evening before the film, Honeydripper, and the two stories resonated. Come Home is set in Arkansas where 26 black men went to war and 13 came home. The actress squeezes the life from Ms. Dee’s husband,, so affected by the loss of his friends they haunt the couple’s bed—their eyes Ms. Dee’s husband’s eyes when he looks down at her when they have sex.
The veteran can’t tell her about the horror, a horror that exists still in the town they live in, and the people of that town. Nothing has changed since they went away and sacrificed their lives for as country which respected it’s enemy more than its citizens.
The narrator describes Ms. Dee’s earlier relationship with her husband, first boyfriend. She counts his eyelashes. I don’t quite get the analogy but I like it the way one knows the “he loves me…he loves me not.” The actress sings with her body and voice—the chorus, three women: pianist, percussionist and violinist are ground that catches the beautiful actress.
Richards channels the spirit world, ancestors and the energy of the trees, which encircle her Ms. Dee at some point as she prays for her son’s safety. Lighting designer, Stephanie Anne Johnson is inspired as she fills the stage with town folk and just as quickly empties it as the narrator speaks. Come Home opens with a lynching of a young boy. Perhaps this was foreshadowing…I didn’t catch.
The couple have two children, Po Boy who is crazy about his mom and looks just like his dad. The younger child is Thunder. The family get along, because even in the silence and the hurt places, there is love. Jovelyn’s voice and the characters she portrays are so remarkably seductive. One can’t help caring and then it happens and one wants to wish it away. Hasn’t this family been hurt enough?
It is the same when Pinetop rescues Sonny when he recognizes the hunger in his face. It is the same with Possum who plays his instrument for certain people to hear, in this case, Sonny and Pinetop. It is the same with Miles and Nina, (Satellites @ Aurora) the baby a nagging reminder that something is wrong—something the parents need to fix inside. Come Home is such a luscious play. The souls of black people give it breath. One can hear the playwright’s conversations with relatives in Arkansas as a child. We can see the plough, hear the chickens in the yard and catch the door before it hits the frame, just in case someone is resting….
She said all her stories start in the same place: Arkansas. One can see Ms. Lucy who lives in all her stories. Ms. Lucy is a mysterious woman who lived with the playwright’s family when she was a little girl, then Ms. Lucy disappeared just as quickly as she came. “I think she was a victim of elder abuse,” Richards said as she recalled the woman who helped her mother for a year for room and board.
Jovelyn Richards’ work has an authenticity that is larger than any one community, unless we’re speaking of the human species. The way trauma can disrupt one’s life is certainly central to this story, yet, time really does heal sometimes when one is faced with a similar trauma.
When Thunder saw her brother carried off by a white mob, and ran home to her father, he seemed to wake up—the other 13 men seemed to wake up too, as they recalled a time before war when they claimed their dignity and reclaimed it in that moment and went to address the terror in Thunder’s eyes.
It was a beautiful moment in the story that reminded me of Zora Neale Hurston’s collection Spunk when in the piece Gilded Six-bits, the husband forgives his wife. In this case, the men forgive themselves and reclaim the love—not lost, but abandoned in their grief for the 13 men who didn’t return home and for a country which denied them their rights as citizens and as people. Come Home at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), in San Francisco, runs Thursday-Saturday, January 31-March 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15-35. The show runs an uninterrupted 70 minutes and really needs an audience. The actress plays for who’s there but I’d like to see what it feel like to have other energy present in the house. I am bringing my college classes next Thursday, March 6.