Philly Fringe 2017: Geoff Sobelle’s ‘HOME’

No place like it

I enjoyed Geoff Sobelle’s HOME as much as I’ve ever enjoyed a piece of theater while simultaneously thinking, “Damn, I do a lot of laundry.”

Sobelle and company make a house into 'HOME.' (Photo by Maria Baranova.)

This remarkable, large-scale theatrical mosaic, staged at the Prince, begins with a single man flanked by blinding yellow work lights, stapling plastic sheeting to a large wooden frame. Then the onstage legerdemain begins: the trappings of a bedroom appear behind the translucent plastic as if conjured, and a cast of residents begin to appear and disappear like magic.

Construction continues until we’re looking at a nearly life-sized cutaway of a family home with a kitchen, dining room, staircase, study, bathroom, and bedroom, fully accessorized with everything from family portraits to the shower curtain to a coffeemaker — all without realizing quite how and when everything got there.

Come on in

Framed by these remarkable feats of stagecraft and a consummate physical ensemble of “creator/performers” (Sobelle, Sophie Bortolussi, Jennifer Kidwell, Ching Valdes-Aran, Justin Rose, Elvis Perkins, and Josh Crouch), HOME moves through cycles of experience and tone rather than any sustained narrative. Its strangely fresh delights are the pitch-perfect touchstones of a life at home recreated onstage: getting halfway up the stairs before forgetting what you got up for, changing the bedsheets, poking your head into the fridge.

Granted, my house has a manic, 100-decibel Chihuahua mix instead of HOME's white-clad man wandering around singing lugubrious original folk songs. But I can’t speak for what’s normal at your place.

At first, Sobelle’s ensemble coexists apparently unaware of each other, myriad identities circling as they inhabit a single space over time. They climb naked in and out of the shower, make coffee, do yoga, eat Chinese takeout, and leave for the tennis court. Every few minutes, someone carries a load of laundry down the stairs, and it’s a scene that’s exceptionally true to life; the average reasonably tidy bedroom disgorges an insane amount of laundry that requires constant pack-mule duty.

Triumphs of design

In his director’s note, Sobelle reminds the audience that the seats of a theater are another kind of “house”; as the show goes on, a burgeoning party onstage encompasses the audience in joyous and unexpected ways. The home of HOME seamlessly hosts everything from a baby shower to a graduation party to a wake, and as the stage teems with objects and people it becomes impossible to track every piece of the action. There are construction workers, homecomings, an escape, a surfer, a dominatrix, a dinner party, a wedding, the police, a narwhal, Santa Claus, and the Grim Reaper. The stage becomes a living storybook of wacky, homey, intricate seek-and-find pictures created for sheer visual delight.

Some of the production’s best achievements are triumphs of design in deceptively simple moments, such as a sunrise evoked by Christopher Kuhl’s lighting, a subtle suburban nighttime symphony from sound designer Brandon Wolcott, and small details like a white moth dancing in the light outside a kitchen door.

When it’s all over, I’m just glad I’m not the stage manager or prop master for this show. Think of all the dishes, towels, pictures, coffee mugs, wine glasses, mismatched chairs, lamps — and that door with the wonky hinge! Come to think of it, the production doesn’t have anything that I don’t have in the home I’ve made for myself with a couple of roommates, which many, many people have rented before us. It’s different from your home, but also probably just the same. 

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