Home/Sick Review - Profiling 1960's Radical Students

A joint production by The Assembly and the Odyssey Theatre, HOME/SICK was developed and devised by the New York City Theatre Collective and written by members of The Assembly cast and crew. This is the history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), founded in 1962, a student activist group which was formed to protest the Vietnam War using, for the most part, peaceful methods. As time went on, the group became involved with the Civil Rights Movement and other activist causes. Membership grew from 300 to many thousands in less than 10 years. In 1969, SDS changed into The Weathermen, a radical group which felt that violence could be justified when seeking societal change. Because of increasing scrutiny by the FBI, The Weathermen went underground in 1970. When the Vietnam War ended, The Weathermen allied with the Black Panthers and continued their many ideological battles. Weathermen tactics were often violent and included symbolic and actual bombings. In fact, three Weathermen died when a bomb they were constructing prematurely detonated in New York City.

Daniel Johnsen, Kate Benson, and Ben Beckley - Photo by Nick Benacarraf

The play opens with a small group of Caucasian, middle-class individuals committed to the idea of changing society. The group of six appeared to be excited by their leftist leanings and probably derive as much satisfaction from pot parties, open sex, and rebellion against their parents as they do from their ideological considerations. The cast features Edward Bauer (David), Ben Beckley (Tommy), Kate Benson (Bernard), Anna Abhau Elliott (Kathy), Daniel Johnsen (Paul), and Emily Louise Perkins (Anna). They see society’s rules as masks that people must wear and condemn monogamy as bourgeoisie.  At first they want to “explode open the consciousness of society.” Gradually, the core group becomes increasingly radical and violent. Finally, they see themselves as fugitives who want to “smash everything.”

Kate Benson, Anna Abhau Elliott, Emily Louise Perkins, and Ben Beckley - Photo by Nick Benacerraf

HOME/SICK is presented as stark realism. The “stage” is actually an open space with graffiti written on the walls and a few mattresses and tarps thrown on the floor. The cast weaves among the audience, some of whom are seated on metal folding chairs. Although the original presentation of this play denied the audience the luxury of air-conditioning, this presentation does not require the audience to experience steamy, hot summer weather in vivo. Costumes are rag-tag. The production team clearly tries to make the overall ambience dark and secretive. The play is over two hours long and could probably have made its point had it run for 70 minutes without an intermission. Even though it is obvious that the actors put their heart, soul, talents, and energies into their roles, it is also true that none of the characters are especially likable. Therefore, it may prove difficult to care about the six characters and what happens to them. Did I mention gratuitous nudity in the second act?

Daniel Johnsen and Kate Benson - Photo by Nick Benacerraf

Under the direction of Jess Chayes, the cast tries very hard to involve the audience by chatting with them before the performance, dancing on the stage during the intermission, and talking to them again after the show is over. Each audience member is asked to fill out a card describing what he feels the ideal America should be like. Each and every response is read aloud at the end of the show. HOME/SICK cannot be faulted for its attempts to get the audience interested. It is also relatively realistic (or maybe realism as seen by Hollywood). However, the actors tend to be bombastic, often screaming at each other, sometimes two or three at a time. At other points, they speak in a whisper. Thus, it is frequently difficult to understand what is being said. At one point, the actors begin to writhe individually and as a group on the floor. Sometimes, the action stops dead while one or another of the actors delivers a long monologue before a microphone. This can be confusing and interferes with the action in the play. While interesting, this play has the earmarks of group writing – which in fact is the case.

Anna Elliott and Edward Bauer - Photo by Nick Benacerraf

HOME/SICK runs through July 3, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 4 p.m. Sundays. Talkbacks are scheduled after the shows on June 15, June 16, and June 17, 2016. A production of The Assembly and the Odyssey Theatre, HOME/SICK performs at the Odyssey Theatre, which is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $25-$34. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 extension two or go online at www.OdysseyTheater.com.

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