10/4/2020     HOMETOWN BOY                        Actor’s Express


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After ten years, James is returning to his father’s house in a small Georgia town.  His girlfriend, Becks, is with him.   His father, Walter, is stubbornly clinging to his independence, even as his mind slips and his memory threatens to burst out of the safe cocoon of secrets and lies that drove James away in the first place.  It doesn’t help that the house itself is a hoarder’s dreamscape of trinkets and memorabilia, reeking of mildew and rot and {whatever that is that’s clogging up the kitchen sink}.


Keiko Green’s Hometown Boy is an explosive domestic drama, a “deep dive” into the price the past exacts from today.  More than that it is a cast-in-anger examination of what it means to be the “other” in your own town, in your own home.  You see, Walter is the only Asian-American in this town.  He is treated with respect, but it is a patronizing respect – he has lived here his entire life (his father moved here to escape the “liberal coast” that put him and his family into a WWII Internment camp) – and knows no other place, no other home.  James, on the other hand, has embraced Brooklyn as “his” home, and can’t help but feel like an outsider, cannot help but be treated as an outsider.

And, as the secrets and lies tear apart father and son, a storm outside threatens to flood the emotional house of cards so carefully constructed and nurtured throughout the years.


We also meet Phillip, ex-governor, ex-mayor, instrumental in keeping Walter safe, in keeping James educated.  We meet Samantha, an ex-teacher whose secret is an actual crime that threatens to rend her own family as well as destroy Phillip’s future political ambitions.  We meet Colin, a happy-go-lucky bartender, planning his son’s birthday party.  And throughout all is Becks, a pseudo- “Greek Chorus” who is our entry point to this family, an outsider trying to make sense of James’ distress, Walter’s stubbornness, and the past that everyone wants to either hide or bury.


This was a one-night Zoom performance, so avoiding spoilers seems pointless.  But the play may (and should) get a full production once the theatres re-open, and this script may (and should) be a sought-for quarantine read.  So I will leave it up to you to discover how all these characters inter-relate, how all their secrets fit into the tapestry of past  and present, of memory and forgetfulness, of lies and truth.  Because one of the joys of watching this production was the sometimes gradual, sometimes sudden revelations that totally overturn all the expectations set up for us like a shooting-gallery of red herrings.


There was also great joy in witnessing the performances of this cast, witnessing the way director Donya K. Washington orchestrated the characters and actors, witnessing the ease with which Stage Manager Mahala Dawn (who also read the stage directions) kept the visuals unified, the pace unflagging. 


Joseph Steven Yang brought to Walter a gravitas and authority that made his occasional lapses in memory, his sudden flares of confusion especially moving.  That he always treated Becks with respect, even affection, is another thread that deepened the character.  Michelle Pokopac is memorable as Becks, juggling concern for Walter and James with heartbreak, even as her frequent picking at the scars of memory threaten to end her relationship with James.  Kevin Qian is all youthful passion and anger as James yet filled with a vulnerability that is epic in scope.  Chris Kayser is all oily Southern charm as Phillip, yet still convincing in his respect for Walter, and his willingness to help him get by.  And Stacy Melich and Jonathan Horne bring to Samantha and Colin easy-going natures that belie the secrets they hide.


The library of family plays in which a younger generation “invades” a parents’ home out of love when said parent begins to experience the inevitable decline of memory and basic survivor skills, is a rich and varied one.  Just last week, the Bare Essentials reading of Emily McLain’s Cheek by Jowl brought us a similar story of pushy but caring adult children trying to bull-doze their father into a living arrangement more conducive to their priorities than to his wishes.  That too was a well-written play with secrets and lies masquerading as family history, and that too was given a terrific reading by a talented cast. 


There are no plans to make Hometown Boy available for On-Demand access, which is a shame.  The 120+ folks who joined last night’s Zoom viewing were treated to an almost perfect play, a brilliant script given an exceptional reading by a talented cast.


It is a tale detailing the traps and pitfalls of “going home” as an adult.  The fantasy of rose-colored memory (or even memory-sketched-in-acid) can never match the reality of houses and parents that are yielding to ruin and entropy.  And, as much as we hate to admit it, that reality is what we all will face at one time or another, both as the adults being the “other” to a parent, and as the parent being treated as an “other” by beloved children.


Hometown Boy was a riveting experience, a moving examination of emotional wounds laid bare, and a brilliantly performed portrait of a family and their home.


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #AEHometownBoy)