Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
I saw the Broadway mounting of Samm-Art Williams’ Home some two decades ago, and I’d have sworn I didn’t remember a word of it, until Godfrey L. Simmons Jr., who’s appearing in Round House’s sprightly revival, launched into a rapturously funny tale about a fellow named One-Armed Ike. Simmons is playing Cephus Miles, a black North Carolinian who dearly loves farming but gave up his rural home for a more urban life sometime in the early ’70s. Understandably, he misses what he left behind, so he regales us with tales about the colorful characters he remembers. Ike is one of those characters, a youngster who came into this world, like most of us, with two arms, but squandered one of them while trying to steal a hog. He was surprised by an eagle-eyed farmer in midtheft, leapt into some bushes, and was then forced to lie motionless in the dark for hours to escape capture. Ike’s arm, alas, was pinned beneath his body, and although he could feel it losing sensation, the slightest movement would have brought a blast from the farmer’s shotgun, so he didn’t budge. Somehow, over the years, I’d reassigned that story in my memory to Mark Twain. And listening to it again, in the company of other robust yarns, about Conjure Woman Black Sarah, Hard-Headed Herbert, and a pint-sized go-getter named Patti Mae Wells, I was struck afresh by how Twain-like Williams’ sense of storytelling is. The author has strung together a series of tales that take Cephus from innocent childhood to buoyant middle age, and distributed them among three performers. At Round House, lanky, easygoing Simmons is joined by Crystal Fox and Lynn Chavis, dervishlike dynamos who double and triple as all the other denizens of Cross Roads, N.C. They’re sent careening around Daniel Conway’s dilapidated barn setting by director Thomas W. Jones II, who knows how to give a musical lilt to the most prosaic of tales and how to vary pacing so that an episodic evening has the forward thrust of drama. He keeps the show bright and engaging, even when what we’re being engaged by is the story of Cephus’ disillusionment. Home is as brisk as it is funny, as funny as it is true-to-life. I won’t forget it again. Bob Mondello