In Almost Home the story opens in 1958 in the Bronx. Pappas (James McCaffrey) a crooked cop shakes down Harry (Joe Lisi) a telephone lineman brought in on DUI. Papas will make that go away, and Harry will owe him. This scene is so poorly written and executed that we figured things could only go up from there. We were wrong in our assumption.
Fast forward to 1965. Harry’s son Johnny (Jonny Orsini) returns home from Viet Nam to visit, and the depth of Pappas’s involvement with the family as well as his plans for Johnny are made clear.
Johnny has mapped two possibilities. First he has a chance to attend college out in Fullerton, California – to the delight of his mother Grace (Karen Ziemba) and his former teacher Miss Jones (Brenda Pressley). He is worried about the cost, though. The author makes no mention of the Vietnam-Era GI Bill that was in place at the time. Johnny’s other option is to stay in the military and be promoted. Pappas offers a third option – and is not interested in “No” for an answer. Johnny can join the force.
The reason that Johnny will take this is because Pappas is holding a note from Harry for $2,000. Johnny joins up and Pappas will make this go away. Johnny is a local hero from high school days – a boxer. Although he was caught running numbers when he was 15, Pappas made all that go away. Johnny got the chance to fight professionally and to join the Marines. Pappas is holding that note over Johnny as well. Meanwhile Johnny has $3,000 of shady money burning a hole in his pocket that he was planning on using for his education, but perhaps his father could use it? Again, no mention of the Vietnam-Era GI Bill – which could actually have been a point of interest if Johnny didn’t qualify.
An intriguing story for certain. The execution of the story, however, is dismal. Mr. Anderson’s text allows little in the way of development to be certain. Anderson is a former vet, an author many times over and an editor of Parade Magazine. Writing for the theatre, however, has escaped him. Each of these characters is really a caricature, who is allowed no nuance or depth. The stories told are exposition, most of which should already have been known to these people. This means that Anderson is writing to inform the audience as opposed to helping the characters feed off one another. Not a position of strength.
As to the performances, with the exception of Ms. Pressley the actors appear resigned to their time onstage. They carry out their duty and little more, and everyone mumbles at one time or another, except Orsini. McCaffrey leads the pack in this department, delivering camera speak instead of stage speak.
Michael Parva’s direction does nothing to lift this production up off the page. There is no attention to detail. Johnny’s marine shirt is way too big for him. If you have ever seen a Marine you know that Marines are a fairly vain lot with shirts that are sincerely form fitting. Johnny’s first home cooked meal consists of a small portion of eggs and some coffee. It is such a footnote that you nearly don’t see him eat it. If a welcome home is so dismissed, you can see where the rest of the play doesn’t stand a chance. When Grace takes Harry’s whiskey away she places it on the windowsill – to wait for Johnny to dump it down the drain later in the play. And on and on.
In the end – one that is so abrupt that the woman sitting next to me leaned in and asked, “Did I miss something?” – we are left not knowing what will happen. The situation sort of does not look good, but we cannot be certain.
Which makes sense, because most of us were uncertain about pretty much everything all night long. Except that sitting through this production did feel like a forced march with a heavy load.
ALMOST HOME, written by Walter Anderson, directed by Michael Parva
WITH ALMOST HOME stars Joe Lisi, James McCaffrey, Jonny Orsini, Brenda Pressley, and Karen Ziemba.
set design by Harry Feiner, lighting design by Graham Kindred, costume design by Michael McDonald, sound design by Quentin Chiappetta, and Hair/Wig Design by Leah J. Loukas.
The Directors Company production – through Sunday, October 12, 2014 off-Broadway at the Acorn Theatre (410 West 42nd Street).