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THEATER BEAT

Realizing There's No Place Like 'Home'

July 30, 1993|RICHARD STAYTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

International City Theatre knows you can go home again. The proof is in its revival of "Home."

Samm-Art Williams' verse play depicts the odyssey of a philosophical farmer who leaves the country for the big city, grows disillusioned and returns to his roots. It's as corny as bootleg corn whiskey and just as potent. The fact that the farmer happens to be an African-American is almost irrelevant. If Norman Rockwell had been black and Southern, "Home" could be his home.

But you'd expect Williams' gentle, lyric, nostalgic storytelling style to seem quaint today. After all, much has happened between the races since "Home" was nominated for a Tony as 1980's best Broadway play.

But we're quickly charmed and captivated by Cephus Miles of Cross Roads, N.C., especially when portrayed by an actor of Cliff Gober Jr.'s compelling warmth. His stories are accompanied by Synthia L. Hardy and Cherene Snow as a multi-voiced chorus playing dozens of characters. Under caryn morse's direction, the gifted actors work together like a seasoned jazz trio improvising country-blues tunes.

We follow Cephus' childhood experiences on the farm, discover his love of nature and gradually his love of a neighborhood girl. This innocence is corrupted when he migrates north to the "Monster City."

Homeless, Cephus descends into urban hell. It's not until he's on a bus bound for Cross Roads that Cephus recognizes his personal black power: ". . . the black sod--the fertile, pungent soil of home."

* "Home," International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark and Harvey Way, Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Ends Aug. 29. $16. (310) 420-4128 or 420-4051, (714) 740-2000. Running time: 2 hours.

'Killjoy': Right Ingredients, but the Wrong Genre

Playwright Jerry Mayer has deservedly acquired a loyal following, thanks to his autobiographical trilogy of romantic comedies at the Santa Monica Playhouse. Each play deftly mixed Mayer's sitcom savvy with his evolving stagecraft. As a successful writer for such television series as "All in the Family" and "MASH," Mayer knew what his audience wanted and delivered . . . until "Killjoy."

His latest is a departure into the mystery thriller field. Subtitled "a comedy of terrors," Mayer's "Killjoy" won't disappoint his most devoted followers since it covers old ground--love, marriage, divorce and ex-spouses at war--but it will frustrate devotees of thrillers who expect less farce and more mystery.

Fans of the genre might be perplexed by the abundance of "meet cute" coincidences, even while Chris DeCarlo's fluid direction keeps the talented cast entering and exiting with precise timing. The plot concerns a divorced couple's feud over alimony payments and their children's inheritance of the lucrative family business. An opportunistic business attorney and a second wife-from-hell soon over-complicate the family's already complex affairs.

Mayer's signature jokes remain--a pun on the Lexus luxury car is a classic--and the confessional asides still maintain their naive charm. But this time Mayer tries to include every successful trick from his trilogy--and in the process kills some of the joy.

* "Killjoy," Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7:30 p.m. $17.50-$20. (310) 394-9779, ext. 1. Running time: 2 hours.

Riveting Drama Hits the Mark in 'Life During Wartime'

In "Life During Wartime" at the Burbage, Rutgers University Prof. Wesley Brown ambitiously examines a New York version of the Rodney G. King beating. He interweaves eyewitness accounts of a graffiti tagger's arrest with the incident's impact on a middle-class African-American family, and for the most part this sophisticated approach proves riveting.

Brown is no "us-vs.-them" polemicist. He divides responsibility for urban tragedies among all social classes, from a rap artist to the victim's parents, from a white police officer to a black activist attorney, from the passive white and black eyewitnesses to the black newscaster.

The only innocent figure in the scenario is the victim's younger sister, ignored by society while it devours itself in a relentless cycle of blame games. Brown's impressive West Coast premiere is capably guided by director Robert Alford II, and injected with fierce vitality by energetic performances, particularly by J.J. Boone as the victim's mother and Danny Morris as the angry rapper.

* "Life During Wartime," Burbage Theatre, 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles. Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 9 p.m. Ends Sept. 4. $12-$15. (310) 478-0897. Running time: 2 hours.

Audience Must Work to Master 'The Art of Success'

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