Not content to bore us with Gone Home, playwright John Corwin goes out of his way to insult us. He has one of his characters remark that if people don’t like "ruminative…internal [writing]…’Fuck ’em.’" Of course, this play at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage II is thoroughly ruminative and internal, which would be fine if it weren’t also pretentious and overly ambiguous.
The story begins on a living room set. A young woman named Kate (Chelsea Altman) holds the hands of a distracted young man named Jack (Josh Hamilton). She tells him not to worry, using words such as "comfortable," "casual," "relaxed," and "familiar" to describe their surroundings. At first, the audience has no reason to believe that she’s describing anything other than what we see, but we soon come to understand that the living room is strictly in Jack’s mind. We do understand from Kate’s initial remarks that Jack is in some sort of medical facility. Why? What’s wrong with him? These are things we won’t learn until much later in the play.
Corwin holds back key information in an attempt to establish a sense of mystery, teasing us with lines like "Why did you come home when you said it would be over your dead body?" The plot is pretty much a straight line — or, rather, a flat line — and the often precious dialogue takes us out of the play in order for Corwin to show us how clever he thinks he is.
Without giving too much away, Gone Home is about forgiveness. Jack left home after a fight with his parents when he was 18 and has been out of touch with his family ever since, but now he is seriously ill and therefore feels a deep need to communicate with them. His mother (Kellie Overbey), father (Rob Campbell), and sister (Callie Thorne) come back into his life in a combination of memory and imagination. Director David Warren heightens and pinpoints this device by having these characters enter James Youmans’s purposefully spare set without walking through any doors; they arrive through open space, as if out of a dream.
All of the actors are essentially of the same generation, which only serves to confuse the audience during the early scenes of the play. Rather than make the point that Jack is imagining his mother as he remembers her from his youth, this perverse approach only distracts from the content of the play. Despite this and other obstacles that Corwin creates, a couple of the actors manage to shine through. Josh Hamilton might be one of the best listeners in the business and his insular, reactive performance fits the material particularly well. Rob Campbell, as the father, brings vitality to his role and lends the play whatever energy it has. Almost everything about Gone Home is passive in style, tone, and intent, so cheers to Campbell for giving the production some momentum.
Finally, for all of the play’s faults, give the author credit for having the conviction to see it through to its exceedingly dark, heart-stopping finale.