The Black Rep’s ‘HOME’ is filmed theatre done right
Filmed live theatre either works, or it doesn’t. In a year of Zoom performances and general theatrical absence, it can be frustrating to sit down in front of your laptop to watch a performance that doesn’t quite live up to the hype of sitting in a theater. You find yourself missing the incomparable feeling of waiting for the lights to dim and the curtain to rise. When you watch filmed live theatre productions, you can either have this feeling recreated or it can be glaringly missed. The Black Rep’s production of “HOME” recreates this feeling and then some.
Watching “HOME” felt like sitting in Edison Theater during a typical Black Rep season, something I have dearly missed. From the first few seconds of the show’s opening, the energy is up and it never goes down. Samm-Art Williams’ “HOME” tells the story of Crossroads, South Carolina farmhand Cephus Miles (Brian McKinley), who has allowed heartbreak to guide him away from his family home down an unsavory path of drugs and internment. The allure of city life loses its shine, and he is only able to find true peace once he returns home to South Carolina. McKinley’s performance showcases the nuanced emotion of a broken man redeemed with skill and effortless grace.
Accompanied by Christina Yancy (Woman #1) and Tyler White (Woman #2)—who also play a multitude of other characters—the three actors’ performances match one another perfectly in theatrical harmony. Yancy and White in particular can be credited with keeping the energy and vibrancy up from the very beginning. In the first minute, they explode on stage, their voices melding into one as they sing; it turns into a booming, powerful and boisterous sonic experience that grips you and prepares you for the rest of the show, all before McKinley even steps on stage.
All three actors wore masks for the duration of the show, a subtle reminder of the time and place that we’re in, but not a reminder that was distracting. I was more focused on the actors and the story they were telling than what was on their faces. Although I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from my screen, after a while the masks faded into the background, so enthralled was I with the story that director Ron Homes crafted. Even with the masks, the exuberance behind their performances comes through to the point where it’d almost be impossible to imagine the power that they could convey in a non-pandemic era during a performance without masks.
The static and unchanging set grounds you as an audience member, but the use of projections, courtesy of designers Margery and Peter Spack, elevates the simple story, transporting you without the need to move or alter scenery. In conjunction with the lights, costumes and sound design, everything is executed as it should be—no more and no less, something that I’ve learned to expect from Black Rep shows, and this one does not disappoint. I hate to use this word, but for lack of a better one, this show is perfect. “HOME” is a must-see show, as are all of The Black Rep’s shows, but this one especially; if you’re looking for something to scratch that live-theatre itch, “HOME” will be available for streaming until April 25 on Vimeo.