Aaron Roitman. Photo: Walden Theatre Alumni
By Lisa Loomer
Directed by Mitchell Martin
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
Every year, more than 2 million kids in America will face a period of homelessness. This from Covenant House, the largest privately funded provider in the Americas of shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and an array of other services to homeless and runaway youth. That is a pretty sobering statistic, even more so when you consider that the majority, if not all, of that 2 million struggles in silence, unseen.
Theater, in its arguably greatest capacity, has the ability to reveal the inner lives of those who are invisible to us. Those we’d rather ignore for one reason or another. This is where Lisa Loomer’s script shines.
I knew very little about this play going into it. I’m glad because it forced me to hone in on every context clue and thread of the story that the actors were delivering. I learned about how JJ’s (Aaron Roitman) bitter childhood has irrevocably damaged him to the point of being unable to fit into even the most tattered shreds of society for long. I learned how Breezy (Peighton Radlein) has become spunky and feral in order to protect herself from the contemporaneous shames of existing while pregnant, not aborting her child, but also wanting to. I learned how Franklin (Noah Bunch) is impossibly brave and steadfast in his self-knowledge: saying no to a comfortable life at home because he knows that conversion therapy is part of the deal.
When I researched the play a little more afterward, I was not surprised to discover that Lisa Loomer learned about her subject in the way that an investigative journalist might. After attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon she became intrigued by a large group of homeless men and women living in Lithia Park. She immersed herself in their culture a la S.E. Hinton. Art begets art and the art that Loomer has created challenges the sense of false security each us who has never been homeless feels.
It is easy to think that people are homeless for a reason, that they didn’t work hard enough or that they made poor decisions. What I believe that Homefree can reveal is that maybe that’s true but maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the reasons behind those poor decisions and bouts of seeming laziness are brought about by unspeakable pain and suffering. And maybe that means it’s not their fault; that it can happen to any of us at any time. That’s the truly unspeakable horror that I think too many are not able to face.
All three of the main actors are sublime, but I have to give a special shout out to Aaron Roitman. Every fiber of his being was in character. His voice and body were transformed but not showy. JJ was real, and that’s an impressive feat considering how easily this role could lead to histrionics in a lesser actor’s hands.
I’m also impressed by director Mitchell Martin’s work with this piece. His staging is simple while still dynamic, and I appreciate that he is not unafraid to bring in other media when appropriate to underscore a scene.
One criticism of the script I will make is that the backstory of the characters was a little nebulous at times. There were some moments where I felt I had to read between the lines a little too much to understand a character’s motivation, but again, I do not believe that this was a shortcoming in the direction or acting.
Nevertheless, Homefree is absolutely worth seeing, and especially so since this production is partnered with Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky and Sweet Evening Breeze LGBTQ Youth Shelter (note: $5 of each ticket sold will go to Sweet Evening Breeze). There are only three more performances in this limited run, and I urge everyone to see it.
Featuring Aaron Roitman, Peighton Radlein, Noah Bunch, Heather Green, Scott Davis, Matt Jaggers, Mackenzie Kasbaum
June 30, July 5, 6, & 7 @ 7:30 pm
Walden Theatre Alumni Company
Nancy Sexton Stage
Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.