If there’s a whiff of paternalism in the Signature Theatre Company’s choice of the Negro Ensemble Company as their “playwright” this season, only Scrooge could complain. Their revival of Samm-Art Williams’s 1979 play Home—the good-natured, zesty story of black everyman Cephus Miles—packs enough energy and charm into a fairly conventional tale to make its flaws seem nearly inconsequential.
Cephus, accompanied by two women playing a suitcase of character roles, narrates the story of his down-home North Carolina childhood—shooting craps in a graveyard, fighting mosquitoes as big as turkeys, pulling drowned raccoons out of bootleg-whiskey vats. The atmosphere of proud nostalgia is soon tempered by Cephus’s imprisonment, at 19, for resisting the draft. Once out, Cephus migrates north to the city, where he discovers sin and failure. His story is depressing in the retelling—he dates an unrepentant gold digger, loses his job and apartment, and becomes a homeless drug addict—but Kevin T. Carroll’s comic timing keeps the tone light in this production directed by Ron OJ Parson.
Eventually, though, Cephus’s country roots call him back home, and the play’s sentimental undercurrent spews up like lava, with a contrived plot twist that incinerates credibility. “I can’t really be bitter,” Cephus sums up. But he has the right.