Gone Home

John Corwin
Manhattan Theater Club, New York
(2003)

John Corwin is a young American playwright who is known to British audiences for Navy Pier, which appeared at Soho Theatre two years ago. Gone Home was originally produced the year before that in Chicago but has now reached New York.

This is a subtle play that develops slowly until it takes on great power and reaches a moving denouement. Jack, very well played by Josh Hamilton, is a writer who has suffered a twelve month block. Hamilton's performance is initially understated, only gradually moving into top gear.

We see Jack returning to the dysfunctional family that he hasn't seen or contacted for ten years. Also, as becomes apparent, this period is interspersed with scenes from his deathbed. As his father says, all plots end in death. They may do, but no always so literally.

The play may represent his flashbacks, the scenes from one of his novels or as seems most likely, his vivid dreams, as he tries to rewrite the past and achieve closure. The timelines are often unclear as the two stories, of the family and of Jack are related.

The five characters are all well drawn. Father is a former writer who gave up after suffering a similar block to Jack's and subsequently became an unfulfilled teacher. He apparently also deserted his wife and travelled great distances, with regular reappearances at home in the middle of the night. His wife, Anne (Kellie Overbury), looking much too young for the part but otherwise convincing, is a bitter, angry woman who has suffered much for her family.

Jack's "creative constipation" is compared with both his wife's literary success and his own diarrhoea, the consequence of an unnamed, debilitating illness that brings him back to his family.

The best acting is produced by Callie Thorne as Suzie, Jack's sister. Her portrayal of an insecure woman with a pre-teen mental age is magnificent. She nicely demonstrates the dichotomy between relative normality and irrational panic.

The way that Corwin, using clever epithets, and director David Warren slowly reveal Jack's dilemma and his past is masterly. The first half-hour seems a slow representation of dull people but by the end of the play, it is seen to be a necessary part of this story of "disquietude, elation and bereavement, all at once".

This kind of elliptical drama with mystery, tragedy and no real answers can easily go wrong. It is pleasing to report that this well-acted and -directed production does not.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher