Originally presented at and created for the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, Geoff Sobelle's Home is a unique — and uniquely haunting — theater experience that relies almost entirely on images and the performers' bodies to tell its story — which isn't exactly a story at all.
Bear with me: Sobelle is a performance artist who says he's interested primarily in universal themes, and he previously brought his piece all wear bowlers to Berkeley Rep in 2006. Home is more of a collective meditation and interactive theater experience than it is performance art, but it functions as all three — and somewhere in there it encompasses dance as well.
Sobelle is the first performer in the piece, and he gives his hints at the sleight-of-hand theater trickery to come when the audience watches him methodically covering a three-paneled screen with translucent plastic tarp material, only to raise it up and have a bed mysteriously appear behind it, from what you thought was blank, black space.
We then watch as six performers (including a child) construct, frame by frame, a whole house, carrying in sinks, toilet, kitchen cabinets, doors, and when they're done, they shed their "workman" coveralls and begin inhabiting the space. One by one we watch them go about the mundane actions of life — the bathroom and kitchen rituals, dressing, undressing, doing yoga. Wordlessly, one gets the impression that we are watching several generations of owners of this house overlapping in time and space. (One particularly effective section includes bathroom and kitchen "dances" in which four performers shower, pee, brush their teeth and go make their morning coffee/tea all in quick rotation.) Sobelle confirms in some program notes that one of his initial inspirations came when he bought a home in Philadelphia and began removing layer upon layer of linoleum in the kitchen, realizing that more than a century's worth of owner had just layered new surfaces over the old.
In Home, we are quietly being show the "life" of a house, and how that life is some agglomeration of all the lives that have passed through it.
Throughout the piece there is music, too, some of it ambient, some played and sung live by composer/performer Elvis Perkins, and more raucous, celebratory moments are ushered in by a New Orleans jazz trio.
The piece shifts into something even more mysterious and dynamic in its latter third, as audience members begin getting pulled on stage. Without giving much more away, the stage's "home" becomes very crowded with life, and with life moments one has as a family or group.
Home is a piece that earnestly asks us not to be embarrassed by our humanity, and to consider the joy and pleasure in the simplest of rituals, and the feeling of "home," whatever that may be. It also stretches our idea of what theater can be, using old-fashioned illusion the simple magic of a stage set taking shape to draw us in to a home that isn't hours. And finally, with words amplified over microphones, it adds a documentary, textual layer that's drawn from randomly selected audience members.
And finally, it's a piece that is as much a visual artwork as it is a performative one. Through images, and impressionistic sketches, Sobelle seems to want us to think about what shelter means, what it feels like, and how it shapes us. In a brisk hour and forty-five minutes, we only scrape a bit below the surface, but it's an evocative, affecting piece nonetheless.
'Home' plays through April 21 at Berkeley Rep. Find tickets here.