The Weather Underground Organization, also know as the Weathermen, was a grassroots collective of white radical leftists who subscribed to a militant, anti-capitalist ideology. Splintering off from a larger organization called Students for Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s, the Weather Underground believed in violence as a form of protest. Home/Sick is The Assembly’s theatrical reimagining of the Weather Underground’s founding, development, and eventual disbandment. Written collectively by members of The Assembly, Home/Sick is a dynamic and thorough piece of devised theater that highlights the complex philosophies, political struggles, and practical idiosyncrasies behind the Weather Underground’s bygone revolution.
In the style of devised theater, Home/Sick employs a variety of formats that showcase the members of the ensemble, both as individuals and as a collective. Plot-driven scenes between characters are interspersed with monologues from the actors, who break the fourth wall to reveal different aspects of the show’s creation process. Bits of more lyrical content, such as contact improvisation, dance, and song also add texture to the overall experience.
One of Home/Sick’s strongest scenes is also one of its simplest: sitting in a circle of chairs, members of the Weather Underground interrogate their colleague David (Edward Bauer) over his disconnection to the collective and unwillingness to open up. Another complicated facet of radical collective ideology is revealed as each member comes forward to criticize David’s participation (or lack thereof) in their efforts toward revolution. Female leader Bernard (Kate Benson) is especially vehement, calling David a chauvinist pig and debunking his attachment to his own “Protestant work ethic.”
In this scene and many others, the tension of revolution is palpable. One of the more interesting contributors to this tension is the self-doubt and self-contradiction riddling the egos of these radical activists. For the most part, everyone in the ensemble manages to stay grounded, despite the heady content of their heedless ideologies. As Anna, actress Emily Louise Perkins is especially relatable. She humanizes the movement with her sweet, soft voice and considered reactions, which do not fit the stereotypical portrait of a radical leftist.
Home/Sick’s only shortcoming mirrors the very flaws of the Weather Underground: its ideology became too big, too idealistic, and too unwieldy. The WUO’s manifesto was a panacea, addressing everything from white privilege, capitalism, monogamy, gender, violence as protest, and the education system. Similarly, Home/Sick attempts to narrate the entire arc of a revolution in the span of an evening; at times, all this revolutionary energy devolves into too much shouting.
The literal white noise of these activists rehearsing their radical ideologies can be exhausting, and lost in the din is the very disturbing gender dynamic between the movement’s charismatic leader, Tommy (Ben Beckley), and Anna. Early in the play, Anna is castigated by the collective’s other female members for her inappropriate attachment to Tommy (the members of the collective are expected to engage in what seems to be a polyamorous form of non-attachment and non-ownership). Yet what remains largely unaddressed is Tommy’s initial use of his own power and political clout to woo Anna into bed in the first place (a rather slick display of male privilege). This particular point of tension between the collective’s ideology and the human error of its individuals deserves to be framed more explicitly.
Overall, Home/Sick is a thought-provoking and timely look back at a moment of controversial revolution. Despite the many intellectual directions that the performance goes in, the question of violence as protest sits at its heart. How do we make a difference? Do we, as Americans, have a voice in our society? Rather than answering these questions, Home/Sick shows us that the past is as uncertain as the future.
The Assembly's production of Home/Sick plays through March 25 at Jack (505½ Waverly Ave., Clinton Hill, Brooklyn). Performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Satudy and at 4 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and information, visit www.AssemblyTheater.org.