by Frank Burd
Two finely dressed, elderly English gentleman sit in a garden, recalling their lives. They talk about their childhood, roles in the military, their marriages, etc. Jack, the more talkative and opinionated one, rambles on and on while Harry utters brief responses —“really, ah yes, my word, indeed.”
After about 20 minutes, the men walk off, and the chairs are occupied by two women, Kathleen and Marjorie. While they are sharing stories, we realize we are not in the backyard of someone’s estate but in a home for the mentally challenged, what they used to call an asylum. We listen to the caustic Marjorie’s negative assault on everyone and everything, and we watch as Kathleen reveals her flirtatious, even possibly promiscuous side. We are not sure if what we are hearing are facts or delusions because none of the four characters displays any obvious signs of a failing memory or dementia itself.
“Home,”by David Storey, which opened in London before it came to New York almost 50 years ago, presents these four seemingly normal people. But are they? One women bickers about everything and appears ready to pick a fight with anyone who disagrees with her. The second seems to be hoping to have just one more romance, one more liaison with a man. One of the men is struggling with where life has taken him, about the separation from his wife, clearly not of his own choice. And the other hides his personal distress by going on and on about the most trivial of topics.
These are four real people behaving as people do, talking and talking and talking. They are as interesting and as boring as anyone else. They each have their little demons that haunt their inner thoughts. And they are all at this institution which provides a home for thousands, for different purposes. There’s almost a touch of the Theater of the Absurd, though the tragic and comic are kept tightly under wraps.
Storey deliberately chooses not to tell us why they are there. Did they check in on their own? Were they committed by a friend or by a court? Are they a threat to others or to themselves?
It is not a grand story on the scope of the classic film “Rashomon,” which tells a single story from the perspective of many characters. “Home,” on the other hand, is a series of small stories, just as everyone has many small stories. Is what they are saying true? They believe it. They believe it as much as they each have their own opinion of whether or not it will rain. They believe it in the same way they believe the varied stories they’ve created about the other residents of the home that they see in the distance.
There is a fifth character, Alfred, in whose first entrance we see wrestling with one of the iron chairs. He is the only one who is clearly mentally challenged. They say he was a wrestler who suffered a head injury and had a piece of his brain removed. But who knows if that is true? Who knows if anything said in that garden is true?
The original cast included Sir John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, two of Britain’s greatest stage actors. Director Robert Bauer has cast Frederick Andersen and Russ Walsh. Though this is not a “professional” show with equity actors, I cannot imagine any Philadelphia actors doing a finer job. Along with Susan Giddings and Carole Mancini, the production is seductively powerful. Bauer has put his actors in this awkward and confusing netherworld with grace and skill. It’s a must-see, particularly for the over-55 crowd, who have experienced similar stories with parents and even with friends.
“Home” at The Drama Group performed at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Ave., will continue through Nov. 30. Visit TheDramaGroup.org for more information.