Coming Home -- Theater Review

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Four months after its premiere in New Haven, Conn., Athol Fugard's new play arrives on the West Coast. Devoid of political controversy, "Coming Home" is a sad, affectionate tribute to rural South Africa.

At 77, it's not surprising the playwright would look back to a time, perhaps in his own life, when he began to discover the magic of writing. Get the story right in your head, the AIDS-infected mother says to her son, perhaps a bow to oral tradition, then "write it on paper."

Playing the mother, Deidrie Henry does a remarkable job as a "Rake's Progress" hero returning in disgrace from the big city. Besotted, promiscuous and spiraling viciously and mortally downward, and with a young son to provide for, she gives a powerful, eloquent performance as a woman who finds the strength to rise up again spiritually by baring the torment of her soul to her future husband.

In a daring tour de force as the pure-hearted village clown (and future husband), Thomas Silcott reveals the simpleton to be a savior by skating on the edge of caricature until, gradually, he allows himself to feel his character's pain at being an outcast.

Adolphus Ward, as the talkative ghost of Henry's folksy father, has such a charismatic air about him that, whether helping tell the story or rounding off the play with a magnificent soliloquy, he clearly is delivering wisdom from the wellspring of an old man's love.

As the son at 6, Timothy Taylor creates a wonderful wide-eyed mystery child. As the young teen, Matthew Elam finds his way from rebel to writer with disarming warmth and authenticity.

As usual, the Fountain's sets and costumes contribute significantly to the dramatic tension and the comfort level the actors have with their characters.

Markedly less controversial than the work that made Fugard famous, "Home" might signal a developing interest, in the manner of Shakespeare's Prospero, at reflecting on the alchemy of his art. Perhaps he, like his characters, also is seeking a new beginning.

Venue: Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles (Through Aug. 29)
Cast: Deidrie Henry, Thomas Silcott, Adolphus Ward, Timothy Taylor, Matthew Elam
Playwright: Athol Fugard
Director: Stephen Sachs
Scenic designer: Laura Fine Hawkes
Costume designer: Shon Le Blanc
Lighting designer: Christian Epps
Composer/sound designer: Peter Bayne