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'Homecoming' shines with family's joy

by: MARK SCHWAHN - Chayne Husband, as Clay-Boy, and Grace Ashford, as Olivia, share a quiet moment in 'The Homecoming.'
Don’t try to resist the warmth coming from the stage during performances of Oregon City High School’s play, “The Homecoming,” opening Wednesday, Dec. 12.

In fact, audience members will feel like one of the family at the end of the show, said Grace Ashford, who plays Olivia, the matriarch of the Spencer family.

For anyone who has seen the TV show “The Waltons,” the plot of “The Homecoming” will sound familiar, and that is because the play is based on a novella by Earl Hamner Jr. That piece became a 1971 Hallmark TV special called “The Homecoming” that was so popular, that the network asked the author to turn it into a TV show, called “The Waltons,” which first aired in 1972. The material is loosely based on Hamner’s life.

“He changed some names, like Clay-Boy in this play became John-Boy in “The Waltons,” noted OCHS drama teacher and director Karlyn Love. And the Spencer family in this play became the Walton family on the TV show.

But the message is still the same, “that one family can find so much love with so little,” she said.

Christmas Eve

The action all takes place on one night, Christmas Eve, in Virginia in 1933, during the Depression.

“We find out early on that Olivia’s husband had to leave town to look for work, and there is a big snowfall and the family is waiting for him to come home for Christmas,” Love said.

She chose the play, because she loved the family dynamic and she loved “The Waltons,” seeing them as the ideal family, Love said.

“It had been on my list for a long time, but I was afraid people hadn’t heard of it. And yes, it is a Christmas story, but it is so much more. It is about a father and son finding each other, and the main character, Clay-Boy, who wants to be a writer, finding his voice as an artist,” Love said.

“It is refreshing to see a Christmas story so full of love and meaning,” she added.

Although the original script does not call for townspeople, Love decided to add them in, because “the townspeople show visually that it takes a community to make strong families. It adds texture to the whole show and brings the play to life.”

With that in mind, she cast 10 faculty members who play some of the townspeople, because “it is so fun to see the faculty and students come together on a different plane.”

Characters

Karmin Tomlinson, a former social sciences teacher who retired in 2011 after 37 years at OCHS, plays Mrs. Harper in “The Homecoming,” and noted that this is her fifth show with the drama department.

She gets choked up, she said, because she loves working with the students over the years, watching them grow as people and performers, and she also loves working with Love, for whom she has so much respect.

She described her character as a “dirt poor” mother and wife, struggling to make ends meet, and noted that her favorite scene is a charity-gift giving event in the town square.

Ashford, who is a senior, said playing mother to students her age has been “a bit of a stretch,” because she doesn’t think of herself as the mothering type.

But she has tapped into something inside herself and the result “makes me feel warm and happy,” she said.

As Olivia Spencer, she is a mother and a wife and the family is the center of who she is.

“She puts her children and husband before herself and her own needs. In the opening scene, she tries to hide her worry about her husband; she knows she has to stay strong for the kids,” Ashford added.

Her favorite scene is the opening of the play, which “sets up for the audience what this family is like. There are eight kids, and each one is a little individual, sprouting up, and Olivia is the ringmaster.”

Senior Chayne Husband plays Clay-Boy, who at 15 is the oldest child in the family.

“He’s at that transitional stage, where he is a little too old to play with his brothers and sisters, and too young to be involved with the adults,” Husband said.

“He is trying to find his place in the family and in the world,” he said, adding that his character knows that he wants to be a writer, but also knows that this is not what his father wants him to be.

“Sometimes you have to choose what will help the family, and not just what will make you happy,” he added.

He has an imaginary conversation with his father, which is one of his favorite scenes, and his other favorite involves a contrasting conversation with his mother.

“I can’t explain to my dad how I’m feeling, but I go to my mom, and come out with all these beautiful thoughts,” Husband said.

Family ties

Love recommends the play for young people 10 and up, and she is a bit wary about younger children seeing the show, because “there is a frank discussion about the existence of Santa Claus.”

However, teens will enjoy “The Homecoming,” Love said, because they will “relate to a parent not understanding them. Not understanding who you are, what you want to be and what you want to do with your life.”

Husband agrees, adding, “Teens today will connect with my character and my sister Becky’s character. We are just reaching the teenage stage and they don’t think their parents understand them and they are rebelling against the norm. They want to live different lives than their parents.”

No one, Husband said, has the perfect family, so seeing the show will help people look at their own life and figure out how to make Christmas better for their own families.

Ashford said “The Homecoming” is “a nice reminder of what the season should be about. You bring together the people you love; it’s not about material things, as long as you have each other.”

Fast Facts

The Oregon City High School Drama Department presents “The Homecoming,” a play based on the book by Earl Hamner Jr.

Dec. 12, 13, 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Venue: The OCHS Auditorium, 19761 S. Beavercreek Road, Oregon City

Tickets: $8 purchased the day of the show only; the box office opens at 6:45 p.m.

For more information: visit ochs.orecity.k12.or.us and click on Departments>Drama.

The play is recommended for children ages 10 and older.

Call 503-785-8980.




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