Homespun left me unsure, uncomfortable, and a little mad - and all of that in a good way, I promise.
For those of you who haven't seen Homespun yet, you're probably out of luck. It's a student written, student directed, student run play, so until an unlikely revival or the world’s oddest bootleg footage surfaces, the chances of you seeing it are slim.
So expect spoilers.
To summarize for those who did not have the chance to see (and to probably oversimplify):
The narrative focus of the play jumps around a lot - with one of the main focuses being the deteriorating health of Ella (and the respondent deteriorating health and well-being of the rest of the family) - so the play comes across much more like a slice of life narrative than a conventionally structured play.
Pulling away from the traditional structure allows the play to explore the lives and problems of all the family members with more or less equal weight. Because their is not one main character, the play doesn't really set up any heroes or villains. It sets up a situation where everyone is stressed, everyone is miserable, and nobody is completely redeemable.
Except for Nathaniel maybe, but he's not real, so he doesn't count.
Caitlin Cusack's peformance as Ella is particularly effective in this play. She is loud, she is frustrating, and she never once came across as fake. (I cannot personally police what is or isn't an accurate portrayal of CP, but I can say at the very least my suspension of disbelief was never broken).
The family is often concerned and frustrated with Ella, which on paper could be difficult for an audience member. Since disability is so under-discussed, the politics of 'when can you be mad at someone with a disability' is fairly uncharted territory. Out of anxiety, I think it's fair to say that many people (who grow up in households without individuals with disabilities) treat those with disabilities (that specifically affect their communication skills and social behavior) as having no personal agency, having no responsibility for their actions. So it's a difficult to decide if and where sympathies stop.
So since Ella has CP, the automatic reaction is to sympathize with her out of anxiety, and villanize anyone opposing her.
But Ella becomes frustrating very quickly. In the run of the play she regularly has episodes where she becomes angry and even louder than her normal behavior. Her presence becomes grating, and it definitely helps one sympathize with the rest of the family.
It's a fascinating discussion, and I think one of the main themes I would pluck from this play: whose pain is valid when everyone is miserable in different way? Especially when one's suffering is caused by the outward symptoms of someone else's behavior or suffering.
It's a cyclical hot mess that leaves everyone exhausted.
Developing that theme, the play does a good job of placing sympathy on characters when needed. Maddie's initial stressor in the play is the Troy Bolton dilemma of 'do I follow my parents' dreams or my newfound artsy dream' into college. Juxtaposed against the screaming and heartbreak of Ella's episodes, it'd be very easy to invalidate this conflict, but the pacing and physical staging of the play strangely enough keep her stressors valid.
Later in the play panic attacks manifest, but I find it more interesting that I was able to sympathize with seemingly lower-stake problems in tandem with Ella.
Lena and Dylan provide some well-needed comedic relief in the play. Dylan, by being not pregnant and relatively of sound mind the whole play, provided extra relief.
Rose and Will played convincingly frustrated parents. Out of all the characters in the play I had the hardest time sympathizing with Rose, who came across as hyperbolically terrible in the beginning of the play, calling Ella a 'beast' and literally telling her that she 'wish[ed] [she] was never born.' Later the extent of her damage is revealed, but it isn't until the final scene that I think I ever really sympathized with the character. Izzie Karp put on a fantastic performance in an emotionally complicated role.
Adam's role wasn't the most complicated, but was honestly the most real feeling to me? There's something about being around somebody else's family that naturally instills a certain 'actey' behavior in people, so it's a role that would be really hard to do wrong. Wil Hinkle did a great job and had great comedic timing when necessary. My only critique of him is that he looks mildly like Zac Oyama from CollegeHumor, and that was slightly distracting to me.
Some other beats I found interesting:
The play wasn't without problem by any means. Like with any high-emotion drama, there were moments where a characters feelings were exposited too bluntly through dialogue. There were also moments where very detailed exposition ultimately didn't serve a function and felt distracting.
The candle was unforgivable, and sometimes when Izzie Karp was folding laundry, the pant legs wouldn't line up correctly, and I died a little. But y'know, depression.
But overall the positives outweighed the negatives, and I had a lovely theater-going experience.
So, next time you're hacking into the hard drives of every Columbia student or family/friend thereof, consider looking for a bootleg copy of Homespun. Or wait for the arrival. It hasn't been announced yet. Someone start a GoFundMe.