Enter this brick box in the heart of Williamsburg’s youth-mecca, and right away you’ll feel like you’ve joined a 1960s meeting of Students for a Democratic Society. An audience of middle-class progressives sprawls across risers or on the floor waiting for someone to step up to the mic and get things started. The cast appears: A guitarist starts to strum anti-war anthems, while an actress passes out index cards to the spectators and a male cohort sends around water and cold lagers.
Home/sick, a new ensemble-devised production by the Assembly, invites us to take a close-up look at the fiery rhetoric of another era’s radical fringe and to measure the distance from our own aspirations. For me—too young to have authentic memories of the period—the piece works best when it freely imagines the passions and tensions brewing within the legendary Weathermen collective. Episodes show how, over a span of decades, this radical group rejected mainstream SDS anti-war tactics, went underground, embraced bombings to stop imperial capitalism, and dead-ended in a bank heist. The company’s nuanced research and invested performances largely pay off with an absorbing, critical-minded narrative.
Some additional elements do not fuse well, however: Director Jess Chayes periodically breaks from the story to give each performer an autobiographical soliloquy about their own discovery of social action or 1960s history. And, of course, those index cards collected before the show come back in an epilogue to give the audience a voice too. These interpolations are well-intentioned, but too banal to be effective. Given the hard edges of the Weathermen’s political rhetoric, sharper tools are needed to contrast today’s tentative social rumblings with the distant turmoil of the Vietnam era.