The Arts at Center Street

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The Arts at Center Street is a performing arts center and home to the Arts at Center Street Theatre Company, located in Nashville, TN.

Breaking Out of the Loop: A Review of HOMELESS

After seeing HOMELESS for the first time, I left in a state of overwhelm. The creativity with which the narrative unfolded, the character development, the themes that emerged - it was all so incredibly powerful. As I mused on all that HOMELESS had presented to me, I heard my mother’s observations in my head. “Well, what in the world was THAT all about!?” she said to me, her annoyance (and her bias toward Disney movies) thinly veiled. I had to laugh at her incredulity. The next weekend, I went back and saw HOMELESS one more time; it was then that I realized perhaps I’m not so terribly unlike the story’s main character, Nod. Portrayed impeccably by Arts at Center Street player Benjamin Reese, Nod had “absorbed” voices from throughout his life, and his inner dialogue sets the scene for the entire play.

Nod, played by Arts at Center Street Theatre Company member Benjamin Reese, "had 'absorbed' voices from throughout his life, and his inner dialogue sets the scene for the entire play." 

Nod, played by Arts at Center Street Theatre Company member Benjamin Reese, "had 'absorbed' voices from throughout his life, and his inner dialogue sets the scene for the entire play." 

HOMELESS is deliciously disorienting from the moment the curtain goes up, which I believe is evidence of a trademark of playwright Gregg D. Garner. He is a multi-sensory writer; he intends for his audience to experience his productions with their whole selves. Thoughtful themes and relevant issues invoke the mind, the characters’ depth and their true humanness draw in the emotions of the audience. Before long, I was fully engulfed in the mental volleys happening onstage, feeling tears burn my eyes when the painful childhood memories played themselves out, and hoping alongside the characters that the story could possibly find a peaceful resolve.

Not a word is wasted in the wealth of dialogue that carries this production. I came expecting to receive the gift of meaning and truth and the provocation of better questions, rather than simplistic remedies, and I wasn’t disappointed. So, as I untangled the plot and got to know the characters, I was intent on what each might be offering me.

It’s not a straightforward mission. Right away, two characters emerge as more scholarly than the others, professors perhaps. The somewhat timid, insecure young writer turns out to be quite excellent, as her manuscript is read aloud. The sultry seductress is so effective, I find myself blushing in the dark. And then, shuffling in and out of the scene, the homeless character interjects seemingly incoherent rants - but are they incoherent after all? Is each blurted, shouted, screamed interjection more like an abstraction of a  proverb or a poem?

In a flashback narrative, Nod's parents (Jason Roufs and Heather Munoz) play out their story, revealing the beginning of Nod. As the scene freezes, other players in Nod's life are able to offer their own commentary.

In a flashback narrative, Nod's parents (Jason Roufs and Heather Munoz) play out their story, revealing the beginning of Nod. As the scene freezes, other players in Nod's life are able to offer their own commentary.

Indeed, as the plot unfolds, Nod’s stream of consciousness outbursts make more and more contextual sense. He is a deeply philosophical individual who began his early adult life as a promising young writer, but had over time become fragmented by the injuries sustained throughout his developmental years. There are direct connections between his homelessness and the home in which he was raised, and the proliferating effect it had on him. Despite his attempts to break free of what appears to be generational dysfunction, he finds himself unable to do so. This excerpt from the script serves as somewhat of a mantra for the voices, as they try to help Nod in this endeavor.

“Moving on can be hard to do. They say you can leave home, but home not leave you. Some people run. They run as far as they can from where they came from. Sometimes they escape. Other times they find themselves in a loop. Back where they started. A different setting, nonetheless the same.”
 

The play is a journey through the significant moments of Nod’s life, as he loops.  Moments that drastically altered who he became - a person who sleeps on park benches, wanders, mumbles, but who in many ways isn’t so different from you and me.

On a technical note, the excellence of the ensemble cast cannot be overstated. Their collective onstage chemistry was beautiful in and of itself; they interacted with each other and the material with grace and fluidity, filling the set with themselves, with rich dialogue, with the story. The simplicity of the set design juxtaposed the cast in the same way that a canvas serves an artist.

Joshua Nava and Canaan Kagay portrayed Bowman and Alfred, respectively. Their contradicting wisdom perspectives are the push and pull with which Nod grapples throughout the play. 

Joshua Nava and Canaan Kagay portrayed Bowman and Alfred, respectively. Their contradicting wisdom perspectives are the push and pull with which Nod grapples throughout the play. 

By the final scene, Nod is prepared to release the voices from inside his head. He has done some really difficult work to get to this point. One of the most significant offerings  of this play is the idea that we live our experiences twice. We live it the first time, and then again, in memory. The power of perspective is available to us that second time around. It’s an opportunity to “hear what people aren’t saying,” to bring mercy and forgiveness to the table when you look back on the more painful memories, times when you didn’t get what you needed, or worse. In walking back through these moments, Nod is able to do just this, and through this process, he finds a new start.

Ultimately, Homeless recognizes at once the vulnerability and the strength of the human spirit. Even as an individual fragmented by the difficulties of life, Nod is able to come to a point where he finally resolves, in his mind (where the play takes place) to change his life. To break out of the loop. To leave the bench behind. To pen a new chapter. When an individual makes that kind of determination, which can only come from within, then there is actually a chance for new life. There is hope.

This internal resolve is the critical turning point, and it has to transpire independent of external influence. As Gregg reflected during the discussion panel following closing night, “It’s more powerful than an earthquake. It shakes the universe they live in, when a person makes a quiet resolve, inside, to do something.”

Written by: Kristina Kennedy Davis

Kristina Kennedy Davis has a B.A. in English Literature and teaches at a private school in Nashville. She has worked in various sectors of editing and publishing over the years, most recently as a creative consultant to the California-based publishing house Cameron + Cameron. Kristina is also a contributing editor for a local publication, The Global Voice.

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