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A Chair is Still A Chair

One of my all time favorite vocal performances is Luther Vandross’s version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “A House is not a Home.” I know. That dates me. But if you haven’t ever seen it, do yourself a favor and watch him as he serenades a delighted Dionne Warwick during the NAACP Image Awards.

The energy moving between the crooner on stage and the diva in the audience is so beautiful, true, and filled with joy that it looks and feels exactly like what the song itself is about. The room he’s singing in would still be a room, even if there was nobody in it. But with Mr. Vandross there singing, and Ms. Warwick there beaming, everyone is at home in the song.

Home is not a place. It is a state of being. We know it when we feel it.

Geoff Sobelle and company have set out to make a performance out of this feeling with their new show, HOME. And like the energy in that video, it resides in the energy that’s passing between the stage and the audience. We are required to complete the circle.

Boston, like all major cities in the US, is struggling with gentrification. It’s a process that disrupts the sense of home, both for the displaced and the newly arrived. As you watch the performance, which I hope you will come do with us, you’ll be sitting in a neighborhood that’s experienced the drama of both the process and its consequences. But read any local newspapers or social media feeds from Roxbury, East Boston, Jamaica Plain, or Dorchester and you’ll instantly understand it’s a pressure the entire city is living with daily. It’s a polarizing process that most often gets talked about in divisive terms about who belongs and who doesn’t: “us vs. them”, “winners vs. losers”, “blighted vs. revitalized”. The reality is, of course, much more nuanced, just like the images and storylines that play out in Geoff’s whimsical, profound, and moving show. But when you are in gentrification’s crosshairs, nuances are an indulgence you can’t really afford. And anyone not currently living in the daily grind of this crisis, whether as a person at risk of displacement or a person who is looking for a place to call home, those nuances are just too remote to feel. How can we solve a problem together that we can’t actually feel together?

When I first saw a workshop of HOME, I was instantly struck by how elegantly, and without words, this piece connects us each to the heart of the matter regardless of our current housing realities. He started on an empty stage. Him in a room with us. Slowly, magically, a house appears on stage, room by room. And as soon as a room is summoned, it begins to be populated by the small, every day interactions that animate any home. By first building the house, and then filling it with overlapping generations of memories, he conjures that private sense of home in each of us. And then, in engaging the audience in such direct and surprising ways, he completes the same circle that Vandross and Warwick do in that video. All of us belong and each of us can feel it. No matter when you got here, or how you came to be here, or where you come from, you are part of what makes this house a home.

Sing it with me: “A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sitting there. But a chair is not a house, and a house is not a home, when there’s no one there…”

– David Dower, Co-Artistic Director


SEP 27 – OCT 1 at The Emerson Paramount Center

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