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In a recent review I decried a production that, like humanity in the famous T.S. Eliot quote, could not “bear very much reality.” Unfortunately, Home is Not One Story, the latest stage production by Hidden Voices at The ArtsCenter, is its diametrical opposite: a work that bears entirely too much.
Since their first productions in 2003-4, I have followed the Voices with deep interest, praising their previous endeavors that effectively lifted the voices and visibility of communities at the margins of our society—works that fully earned them an Independent Art Award in 2007.
With that said, Home is Not One Story is clearly the least successful of their stage pieces I’ve seen.
To be clear, this assessment is no reflection on the largely non-actor, community-based cast, which warmed admirably to their task as the evening progressed.
In the company’s previous projects, ethnographer/playwright Lynden Harris has utilized an amazing editorial sense and an enviable economy of expression in working different series of personal interviews and writing exercises from various populations into admirably stageable scripts.
But her editorial sense and artistic economy have gone far astray here. Home, indeed, is not one story. It’s entirely too many stories, mashed one on top of another, in a pile-up that flattens the audience under a disjointed mountain of attempts to seemingly represent every single reason for homelessness.
In its opening, a series of on-stage projections thanks over 110 people for the stories they contributed. Unfortunately, Home seems determined to tell all of them, as 12 people on stage shuffle back and forth repeatedly between different and sometimes contradictory tales, beyond the point of confusion.
At times, the two actors and ten community members respond so emotionally while saying their own lines, we conclude they’re recounting their own experiences. That testimony is frequently gripping. But then, when the narrative ball next lands in their laps, they relate the details of a story absolutely alien to the history they just recounted. A hopeless snarl of narrative threads—inappropriately similar to those deliberately employed by Jeffrey Jones in his satire Tomorrowland—results early on when it becomes impossible to keep the various accounts straight.
Beyond a point it becomes obvious: It’s inappropriate to ask these 12 people to bear the weight of so many different people’s woes. When Home does, it makes them seem collectively—and ludicrously—cursed as a result. By the time the fourth or fifth separate natural disaster has visited someone who speaks of all of them as having happened to her, our disbelief is anything but suspended. When the balance between darkness and hope is tipped, the result becomes a lengthy, unrelieved recital of grievances and pain.
Yes, homelessness is a symptom as much as a disease. It is connected to domestic violence and sexual abuse, mental disability and drug abuse, the dilemmas of economic, political and social exile and intolerance. It stems as well from a social safety net that inadequately protects the poor from medical catastrophe and natural disaster, and a host of other ills.
In Home, it felt like they attempted to take them all on, at once.
Now we know: One show can't do it. And one cast—and one audience—find themselves exhausted when Home is Not One Story tries.