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Black WWII History Play: (Jovelyn Richard) at THE MARSH through March 8

A Richmond City Employee emailed me,This is a very good portrayal of what a “Black” family may have experienced upon the return of a male relative from WW II.  .  .  It’s a memorizing play!  It is not suitable for those under 16 years of age. I plan to see it again real soon!”


The connection with Arkansas and Richmond’s WWII history caught my eye.

'Come Home': Richards' narrative about WWII

Reyhan Harmanci

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jovelyn Richards' idea for "Come Home" came during her tr...

To say Jovelyn Richards is performing a one-woman play titled "Come Home" at the Marsh would not be completely accurate. While it is indeed a one-woman show, she doesn't consider herself a playwright or even really a performer. She's a storyteller.

"Come Home" deals with the ramifications of leaving for war and the impact of returning. Specifically, she constructs a narrative around 26 black soldiers who leave their homes in rural Arkansas to fight in World War II.

"I'm curious about humanity, and I've been working in communities that are challenged," Richards says. "My technique is what I call 'emotional mapping.' I talk with people, try to find out what their sensibilities are, where they're coming from, how they live their life. That's how stories come to me."

Richards, who moved to the Bay Area seven years ago, says the characters for this work began coming to her about a year and half ago. She was traveling through the South, thinking about war and what connected people from different generations.

A pivotal moment in this research came when she asked an older woman if she remembered World War II. "No," the woman answered. "What does that mean?" Then Richards asked her if she remembered Adolf Hitler.

"When I mentioned Hitler, she just lit up. She said, 'Oh, I knew him. I knew him well. And I knew others like him, right down the road.' "

What Richards took from this was that for a generation of black Americans, the experience of going to war against Hitler and the experience of fighting against lynchings and segregation in America had a lot in common. It also got her to think about what it was like, and continues to be like, to have young people leave their communities and go to war.

The first character to come to her - Richards says she doesn't write so much as channel - was a woman named Donna Ray. She forms the center of the performance. Her husband went off to war, and his homecoming is one of the featured narratives.

Richards says that in constructing their relationship, she ended up making a crucial alteration after she started imagining dialogue. In some ways, their whole story hinges on one word.

"When he comes from the war, she prepares everything, and I thought he said he wanted to be alone, but no - he came to me and said he needed to be alone. That shifted the whole emotional reality. He wanted to have a drink with her, have a bath, but how do you translate those tender emotions, how do you plant a kiss on someone's mouth, when you've been disenfranchised on so many levels?"

8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Through March 8. $15-$35 sliding scale. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F. (415) 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

- Reyhan Harmanci, rharmanci@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page G - 14 of the San Francisco Chronicle

To buy tickets please call 1-800-838-3006 or go online http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/25487.