Berkeley Rep’s HOME is where the (he)art is

Mar 27

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Berkeley Rep’s HOME features (upper level, from left) Sophie Bortolussi and Geoff Sobelle with (on the stairs, from right) Justin Rose, Jennifer Kidwell and Ching Valdes-Ara. Below: Downstairs, Sobelle and Rose and upstairs David Rukin and Bortolussi. Photos courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

What Dorothy Gale said is true: there’s no place like home. But in this particular instance, there is no place and no show quite like HOME, the creation of the marvelous Geoff Sobelle, whom we last saw rummaging through boxes and file cabinets on stage at the Curran in The Object Lesson (read my review here). Sobelle is back with another inventive, wholly unique theater piece, this time at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where he and a mighty crew of designers and actors are homing in on the lives we lead.

I’ve never seen anything quite like HOME, a mostly wordless one-act (about 105 minutes) that combines magic tricks, dance (let’s call it highly choreographed movement by David Neumann), vaudeville comedy, serious exploration of day-to-day humanity and more audience interactivity than I’ve ever experienced in a theater. At one point in the second half of the show, it felt like a good third of the Roda Theatre audience was on stage participating in the show, all looking and acting like they were hired actors doing all kinds of things from the simple act of celebrating and drinking wine to being costumed for a wedding to fighting with a “spouse” to the more demanding job of narrating a description of a personal dwelling into a microphone.

But that’s all part of the giant metaphor of theater being a certain kind of home in and of itself. The auditorium of a theater is often referred to as “the house,” and we theater fans are temporary dwellers in that house for the specific purpose of having a concentrated life experience alongside our fellow dwellers. The experience of HOME – and it is more of an experience than an actual play – is to provide a framework around the notion of what home means to us and partially fill it with some theatrical dazzle, some group revelry and songs. The singer/songwriter Elvis Perkins (interesting side note: he’s the son of actor Anthony Perkins and photographer Berry Berenson) is the troubadour for the evening, floating through the house in a wide-brimmed hat singing original tunes and playing guitar, autoharp, ukulele and harmonica. Why? Why not!

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In addition to Perkins, there’s abundant music floating through this dwelling. A small brass band materializes at one point, and the sound design (by Brandon Wolcott) includes some memorable tango moments to underscore the push and pull of the inhabitants as they live their complicatedly simple lives and go through their daily ablutions.

Perhaps the most memorable sequence involves the morning routine, as inhabitants roll out of bed, into the bathroom and then into the kitchen. The core cast of six makes it seem like dozens of people are flowing out of a bed (lots of actual magic tricks, sorry, illusions at work here designed by Steve Cuiffo) and into the tiny second-floor bathroom, where comedy and nudity blend into a grown-up clown show. From there, the action moves downstairs into the kitchen for juice and coffee and then off into the day. It’s all the humor of recognition, but elevated to high art under the astute direction of Lee Sunday Evans.

Aside from the actual tricks, there’s some real magic to this show. We all have a relationship to home, be it the one we’re from or the one we live in, and HOME leaves us plenty of room to fill in the blanks, even if there isn’t really a story or fully formed characters. This is a show that can simply be entertaining and interesting (hugely so on both counts) or as deeply meaningful as we might want it to be. There’s a life cycle to the home here, from the opening moments when Sobelle begins putting up walls to create the home to the closing moments, when the building has reached the end of its usefulness. The house is the primary character here, and as such, its design by Steven Dufala is ingenious. We are allowed to witness all the important moments of this structure’s life. We even get to experience that moment when it goes from construction site to actual home (flowers on the table, water in the sink, sheets on the bed). We experience rousing celebrations and the darkness that can creep into mundanity (all beautifully lit by Christopher Kuhl).

As a kind of a house, a theater is constantly filled with dreams made real, and the house in HOME is indeed dreamy, full of that transient joy and sorrow, those beginnings and endings that demarcate our lives. That’s either quite ordinary or quite profound. In HOME Sobelle allows it to be both, the constant flux of life under a roof, self-contained yet impossible to hold.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Geoff Sobelle’s Home continues through April 21 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $30-$97 (subject to change). Call 510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org.

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