“What is home?” A deceptively simple question, one that opens the floodgates for a tidal wave of entangled notions of self, family and place. In a collaborative effort from The Howland Company and Native Earth Performing Arts, presented by Soulpepper Theatre, three artists give us intimate, compelling examinations of this fraught concept in The Home Project.
In the Yonge Centre’s open air courtyard a stage is piled with the familiar physical trappings of home—more specifically, a home in flux: cardboard boxes, bulging garbage bags, a ladder… My eye was drawn specifically to a small aquarium in which a mysterious object is submerged—to be revealed much later. The overall impression is haphazard and yet, as the evening progresses and we invest in these stories, this stuff takes on weight and significance.
Amidst the strangely comforting collection of disparate memorabilia, co-creator/performers Qasim Khan, Akosua Amo-Adem and Cheyenne Scott delve into three homeward journeys, each with a unique framing device. Much like the remnants of domestic life that clutter the stage, their contrasting styles and specific fixations gradually coalesce.
Khan takes us into his confidence as he helps his mother move out of the family home, some two decades after the death of his father. Khan fosters a casual relationship to the audience, setting up the meta theatrical dynamic that will define much of this show. Two gigantic and dusty rugs stuck high up in the rafters figure prominently and eventually facilitate a playfully theatrical ghostly visitation. Khan offers charming, poignant glimpses into a family’s history and creates a vivid sense of place.
Amo-Adem’s piece takes the form of a stand-up set in a comedy club. As Adwoa, she regales the audience with hilarious scenarios, such as white folks trying and failing to pronounce her name. There is a very funny running gag about her simple request for a chair and I almost peed myself during the mounting of the stool episode. A sombre mood creeps in as she discusses tensions with her deeply traditionalist mother and the painful struggle to reconcile her sense of belonging in Toronto and a yearning for the land of her birth—Ghana. She leaves us with a very moving final image.
Scott’s tale, woven throughout the other two, is more mythic and considerably harder to grasp onto. After a cataclysmic event in which a great flood destroys a landscape, a lonely, uprooted traveler she braves the natural elements in search of her “spirit.” She meets several animal characters, gaining perspective and insight from her encounters with each. A distinctive aspect of this piece is its musicality. With an offstage drum for accompaniment, her voice—layered beautifully with a loop petal—carries hauntingly out into the night air. The stirring finale seems to suggest that even traumatic episodes can help define us.
Under the dramaturgy and direction of Keith Barker, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia, these stories add thematic weight and context to each other. The theatrical device of sharing key props also helps bind them physically. Despite its title, The Home Project never feels as contrived and academic as you might expect; it really does hit home.