Linor is a white female playwright, performer, and maker
When I came to HOME I knew very little about it and carried very little in my pockets. Upon peering at the program, I saw that I had worked with two of the performers onstage, but that otherwise I had only a small inclination of what I was about to see.
Other reviews for HOME, created by performer/maker Geoff Sobelle, and directed by Lee Sunday Evans, spend a lot of time talking about the design, and for very good reason. The most successful strategy Sobelle employed to meditate on the distinction between a home and a house was a revelation of space and design that was fluid, impressive, and at times epic. Before our eyes, a house is built, so quickly and practiced that no one person can catch the whole process; I spent so much time watching the construction worker who brought in appliances for the kitchen that I missed those who fit the walls into place. Because the piece relies on transformation and revelation, set designer Steven Dufala has to be honored on the strongest possible terms.
But more interesting than the structure of the design is the way the players interacted with it. HOME is described as the “life cycle of a house, and the many dreams of home cast upon it.” In one bed, we see Sobelle and all the other performers (Sophie Bortolussi, Jennifer Kidwell, Justin Rose, Ching Valdes-Aran, Elvis Perkins, and Josh Crouch) wake up, fall asleep, toss and turn, weep. With clever choreography, one person enters the bed, throws the sheet over their head, and when the sheet is lifted next, we’re greeted with a new face. This illusion is repeated so much in HOME – in the shower, at the basement door, in the bedroom closet, even in the refrigerator – that the piece really does start to feel like time-lapse photography, or a kaleidoscope of different lives in one physical space, layering on top of each other through time. Accompanied by a melancholic and nostalgic original score by Elvis Perkins and sound design by Brandon Wolcott, we see human beings unclenching in the place they hang their hat.
HOME is just watching people at home, in the quietude of personal space. The sun rises (lights by Chris Kuhl), and a day begins – people go to work, walk down the stairs – forget something – and then walk up the stairs again; lovers reunite, marriages end, the dead are remembered. At the end of the play, performers pull audience members into the house and whisper instructions in their ear, and a party turns from a holiday celebration to a graduation to a baby shower to a Halloween blow-out to a fight to a fire to an eviction to a loss. The specificity of lifetime moments in a day are observations unto a larger question the piece does not get to ask until its end: exactly what about the wood that makes our walls makes us feel at home?
I think the nicest version of the answer to that question is that it’s people who make a house a home. Because when everyone leaves, we’re just left with dilapidated stuff – material, broken wood, boxes. It’s only sad because we have seen the people who used the stuff endow it with meaning. But what I was more interested in is the choice the creators made to pursue home – and house – through the understanding and lens of an entirely Western nature. Between the layout of the house, the routine that we get to observe, the clothes, the rituals – even the Italian songs playing from a croaky radio – we get an extremely Western sense of home and place. It’s little things that we all presume are universal. A shower in the morning right when you wake up is not actually a universal ritual of hygiene – not everyone in the world bathes in the same way. The customs and norms of hospitality or greeting (bring a bottle of wine to the door, shake everyone’s hand, stand around and look at the pictures on the wall if there’s nothing else to do at a party) crash-land us into a warm, large, amber-lit home that could have come straight from Society Hill.
There are a number of reasons why this might trouble me, but I think the most palpable is that by focusing solely on the West, we have once again robbed our audiences of being able to see the universal in spaces of home that are different from their own. HOME is not an all white cast or production, but its living habits are definitely middle-class and Euro-centric. How much more layered the experience would have been if the same revelation of space and of universality could have featured other living experiences? How does a low-income family make their house – or their rental – into a home? How is a Western African house made into a home? An Arab house? An Pakistani house? The question what makes a house a home has some specific, universal answers, but we can only find those when we go truly around the universe.