One of my absolute favorite show tunes of all time is “Home” from The Wiz. Such love and longing in its powerful verses. As I was watching the new About Face Youth Theatre’s piece, Ad Hoc (Home) now playing at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater, the lyrics of that particular song kept resonating through my head. “When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing. I wish I was home, I wish I was back there, with the things I’ve been knowing.” Unfolding on the stage in front of me was a diverse troupe of young people, including a rainbow coalition of sexual identities. This 13 member ensemble, equally comfortable while simultaneously vulnerable, discussed such personal material, reflecting upon their individual journeys and LGBTQ experiences. Co-directed by Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell, Ad Hoc (Home) as a theatrical experience, would best be compared to flipping through a glossy magazine of sexuality identities rather than reading one prolonged, substantial book. The 60 minute run time and constantly diverting focus between each character’s vignettes crafted that “magazine” feel. The story would touch on depth and then quickly move on. Not that I am detracting from any intended poignancy with my magazine analogy. These personal theatrical essays were the substance used to both service and advance the story, while also metaphorically filling the multitude of empty frames populating the set designed by Arnel Sancianco with clever projections from Paul Deziel.
The overall question of the piece was what does home mean to you? A myriad of answers followed. The playbill suggested the title came from the following….“Ad Hoc – Formed, arranged or done for a particular purpose only. Fashioned from whatever is immediately available. Home – The place where one lives, especially as a member of a family.” But what makes a family? Is it biology? Choice? Shared circumstances? The answer to each question, a definitive yes. There is room for both biological family and chosen family in everyone’s “home.” These two concepts are not mutually exclusive or at war with one another. This devised play very much felt like a byproduct of numerous therapy sessions, with subject matter patched together forming its own Pride quilt of self-esteem, self-doubt, self-actualization and self-discovery. With fragmented dialog including “I was taught self hate,” “It’s ok to not be okay,” “My dad looks at me, but he doesn’t really see me” and “I don’t hate my parents, but they are a constant reminder of what I am not” these weighty feelings expressed from a cast ranging in age from fourteen to their early twenties. The show thankfully wasn’t all dire. I laughed extraordinarily loud at the “quarter-life crises” comment, as I am fearfully approaching mid-life myself. “I find home in other people” and “chosen family is like a tree, strong at the core” left me optimistic for a generation known for snap chatting, texting, and instant gratification. I believe this story telling technique is an attention grabber spoken on and to their very generation. Happily, not a glimpse of condescension or aloofness in sight.
The fresh cast of the About Face Youth Theatre’s troupe included Charlie Blackburn, Elena Cohen, Melody Derogatis, Bex Ehrmann, Elliott Hobaugh, Da Shona Johnson, Isis Mendoza, Daisianne Minenger, Sandy Nguyen, Kyla Norton, Jimbo Pestano, Jasmine Smith, and Arleigh Truesdale. Trans performers Elliot Hobaugh and Isis Mendoza broke my heart a bit while speaking on their own experiences with disapproving parents. An unnecessary and additional hurdle both had to face in their personal journeys of self discovery. The narrative reminding everyone how “it’s important to hold space for one another.” Structured like a book with chronological chapters, Ad Hoc (Home) isn’t a sentimental stereotype. It is a celebration and an awakening. Each person was given their moment in the sun to shine. Some comical, some dramatic, just like life. There was a segment when each actor spoke directly to the audience, thanking the person in their world for whom they first came out. I was stunned at how confident and remarkably young some of their coming out stories and ages were. I suppose this is the positive byproduct of a generation who has always had Ellen DeGeneres, Will and Grace, Neil Patrick Harris, Melissa Etheridge and countless others as fantastic role models who already paved the way for them. Thankfully, there is little “stigma” attached to being gay anymore, especially in that generation.
Home is generally though of as the safest of spaces, but that is not always the reality. This show briefly tackled the outrage felt when their community was attacked. The Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, a jarring reality and uncomfortable reminder that hate still exists, it is well armed and on the attack. Building on the trust and loved shared throughout this ensemble, and with a little indulgent self-promotion tacked on during the conclusion, the show ended hopeful, each cast members reflecting upon their own experiences of strength and dignity found from being collaborative members of the About Face Youth Theatre. Inspired by their own stories and struggles, Ad Hoc Home is an uplifting and empowering program aimed at the very people who are presented in the cast. Told in their own terms, family and home become what you make of them. Bringing this review full circle, once more quoting from The Wiz’s “Home” the ending lyric is most applicable. “Living here in this brand new world might be a fantasy. But it’s taught me to love so it’s real to me. And I’ve learned that we must look inside our hearts to find, a world full of love, like yours and mine. Like Home.”
About Face Youth Theatre presents Ad Hoc (Home) now playing at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater through July 31, 2016