A Homeless Holiday
Written and directed by Juergen K. Tossmann
Review by Rachel White
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.
A Homeless Holiday opens with a song ringing through the dark. It takes a minute to recognize it as Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, sung accapella by one of the characters, Leon Gomez (Ian C. Quinell Locke), a homeless man who hangs out behind a downtown Louisville church. The song is perhaps too obvious for the opening of a play about homeless people, but Locke sells it with a little soul as he sits on the stoop and munches his McDonald’s french fries. Next to him, on an old couch, which may or may not be bed bug infested, is a rough talking homeless Vietnam vet, Williard Minion (Matt Orme). Gomez passes him a sandwich, and they argue over the increased cost of fast food.
On the other side of the building, a group is selling items to raise money for the church. Among the participants are Melba Mean (Sharon Becher), a person who wishes the homeless would go away, and the gentler Lucy Ento (Jerilyn Gashi), the director of the choir. There will be other characters, drawn as if by mysterious forces to this spot behind the church, including the Pennybone brothers, Cyrus (Brad Castlebury) and Homer (Mike Burmester), who have come into the city to see their first play ever. Homer, a war vet, is so damaged from the war in Vietnam that he can only repeat what other people say and sing “Plastic Jesus”. Then, there is the reverend Williams (Allen Schuler) and his wife, Marsha (Cynthia Schrader). Williams seems unaware of the homelessness problem going on right outside his church. There is also a mischievous Clown (Chase Gregory), who weaves his way through the action mugging for the audience. It’s worth noting that the characters just take the clown as a matter of course, which opens the audience up for the play’s less than realistic structure.
As is characteristic of his plays, Tossmann brings together a slew of characters from various walks of life who find themselves together on Christmas. He paints with a broad brush and many of his characterizations are overly simplified. For example, Melba is clearly ill informed and good naturedly insensitive, as well as tone deaf, but her character does not develop far beyond that. Conversely, Lucy Ento is very good and non-judgemental throughout. While it’s true people can be completely insensitive or highly sensitive in regard to the plight of the homeless, most people’s feelings are conflicted and lie somewhere in the middle. This is true for the homeless themselves, who in the end, are just people trying to get by, but who for complex reasons have landed in bad situations. A play with more nuanced characterizations would drive the point home in a deeper way.
The work is clearly well rehearsed and moves along at a nice pace. The play makes little attempt to dig at some of the complex problems facing the homeless and those who want to help them. That’s something I, as an audience member, would like to have seen. Maybe Tossmann wants to simply remind the audience not to forget the homeless and downtrodden on Christmas, and in that way the play succeeds. The message is perhaps a little heavy handed, but there is enough humor and some good performances to see it through.
A Homeless Holiday
December 6-22, 2013
Bunbury Theater at
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South 3rd St.
Louisville, KY 40202
For tickets and more info go to BunburyTheatre.org.