11/10/2021 HOMETOWN BOY Actor's Express
THE UNBEARABLE OTHERNESS OF GOING HOME
Last October, Actor’s Express offered a Zoom reading of a new play I found compelling and moving. For their first post-quarantine season, they have chosen to mount a fully-staged production. It was a most wise choice!
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 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 Sam, an ex-teacher whose secret is an actual crime that threatens to rupture her own family as well as destroy Phillip’s future political ambitions. We meet Collin, a happy-go-lucky bartender, planning his son’s birthday party. And throughout all is Becks 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 is a gripping and stylish play, and the design and “look” of the production brings it to vivid life. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have fashioned a gloriously tacky set, a seedy room overflowing with detritus, including everything from cherished photos and keepsakes to several years’ worth of garbage and can’t-let-it-go junk. Turntables give quick segues to a local bar and to Sam’s spotless kitchen, providing a beautiful contrast to Walter’s clutter. Cody Evins’ clever lighting scheme underscores the contrast, giving Walter’s home a sepia-tinted gloom, the bar a festive Holiday-Season-All-Year glow, and Sam’s kitchen a sterile fluorescent glare. Add to that scheme a continuous barrage of lightning flashes from the on-coming storm and you’ll be convinced (perhaps) that you’ll be walking back to the parking lot in a torrential downpour.
Last year, when writing about the Zoom reading of the play, I was able to avoid spoilers, hoping the script would get a full production once the quarantine was over. Once again, I will leave it up to you to discover how all the 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 is the sometimes gradual, sometimes sudden revelations that totally overturn all the expectations set up for us like a shooting-gallery of red herrings (or basement rats).
There is also great joy in witnessing the performances of this cast, witnessing the way director Rebecca Wear orchestrates the characters and actors, witnessing the manner in which she keeps the pace unflagging.
Glen Kubota brings to Walter a vulnerability that makes his frequent lapses in memory, his sudden flares of confusion especially moving. That he always treats Becks with respect, even affection, is another thread that deepened his character. Michelle Pokopac is memorable as Becks (as she was in last year’s reading), 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. Ryan Vo is all youthful passion and anger as James yet filled with a vulnerability that is appealing, even when his behavior is most unappealing. Chris Kayser (another holdover from the reading) is all oily Southern charm as Phillip, yet still convincing in his respect for Walter, his willingness to help him get by. And Allison Dayne and Daniel Parvis bring to Sam and Collin 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. Hometown Boy is a worthy addition to that list. It is a well-written play with secrets and lies masquerading as family history and is given a memorable staging by a talented cast, crew, and design team.
It is a tale detailing the traps and pitfalls of “going home” as an adult. It makes clear that the fantasy of rose-colored memory (or even sketched-in-acid memory) 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 is a reality we all will face at one time or another, both as the adults being the “other” to a failing parent, and as the parent being treated as an “other” by beloved children.
Hometown Boy is 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)