Thursday, April 13, 2023

Word For Word's "Home" ★ ★ ★

A Word For Word production has unique conceits. 
Since no liberty can be taken with the written word of the short story being performed on stage, the company must go to great lengths to keep an audience's interest. Part of this process comes from choosing the correct story to act out, but the other part comes from humorous visual clues -- the actors becoming, say, flowers along the road or a barking dog. These visual clues feel like "ah-ha!" moments for an audience and they almost always work.

But George Saunders "Home," a tale of a war veteran returning home with what appears to be PTSD, is anything but funny.  Brian Rivera, who plays Mikey, the returning vet, is confused, both by the home town he left and the unspoken act he committed while in the military for which he has been court-martialed.  Everything and everyone around him have changed. Perhaps this overwhelming seriousness makes it difficult to chuckle at an actor pretending to be a phone booth, so the visual clues can feel contrived. "Home" is not an easy story to feel lighthearted about.

As always, we loved the ensemble, all playing multiple roles. Norman Gee is terrific as a toothpick-toting sheriff and as the father of the especially obsequious Ryan (Tre'Vonne Bell). Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe and Robert Ernst are hilarious as Mikey's parents, whose deflated lives illustrate to us the class-consciousness at the heart of Saunders' story.

"Thank you for your service," the most clich├ęd phrase in our public discourse, next to "hearts and prayers," is on everyone's lips. It means nothing. The truest lines Saunders has Mikey say are his final ones: "You sent me. Now bring me back."

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Three Stars to Word for Word's "Home." All Word For Word productions are worth seeing, not only because of their excellence, but because they give us a totally unique form of live performance. We have seen W4W shows we liked more than "Home," but part of the problem may be that we have entered the post-Pandemic "Please Make Me Laugh" portal. "Home" feels a bit close for comfort.

Word for Word's "HOME"


470 Florida Street, San Francisco

Through April 29