Written in 1964 by Lanford Wilson
, Rimers of Eldritch
, Balm in Gilead
), Home Free! is a an incredibly powerful one-act play whose two characters, Joanna and Lawrence are teenage
s who live alone together in a squalid apartment
. Their world is one of fantasy
, childish banter
, and playful fighting. Lawrence wishes to be a writer and fancies himself an inventor
--he is building a ferris wheel
made up of cups
that they will both someday ride. Joanna is a bit more practical
, but only marginally so. The siblings have two imaginary friends, Claypone and Edna who they boss around and lecture on the importance of etiquette
What makes this play so incredible is that somewhere near the middle of the play we realize that Joanna is pregnant, and that the siblings are in fact incestuous. The love they have for each other is part sibling love, part flirting. There is a deep contrast between what is fantasy (wondering if Joanna will have babies or perhaps a litter of kittens*) and what is very very real (the fact that she is carrying her brother's baby). Home Free! is an unsettling spectacle that's not easy to untangle. Are they mentally impaired adults, or actual kids engaged in role-playing that goes beyond their comprehension? Is Joanna really pregnant? And are the unseen children they address, "Claypone" and "Edna," figments of their imaginations, or actual people? Throughout the play we get the sense that Joanna may be aware of what is really going on, and is sort of playing along with Lawrence, but it is never that clear, and we can't be certain of how competent she is.
I directed this play in high school and it was one of the most amazing experiences I've had in theater. In order to create the feeling of a really messy, well lived-in room, we took literally all of the costumes out of the costume closet and scattered them all over the stage, throwing in baskets, books, hats, and a roll of postal-grade bubble wrap for good measure (great for all the running around they did). I had the actors make crayon stick figure drawings to tape up on the wall, and contrasted that with a blackboard full of astronomical sketches (used in Lawrence's astronomy lessons). How would the characters have all of these things? We figured they'd be scavangers of a sort, and would fancy collecting odd things to arrange their room with. The bed was a center of activity, as was a very delicate and ornate ferris wheel made of cups, sparkle and a bicycle wheel.
Getting the interaction down between the two actors was one of the more difficult aspects of the production. Not only did they have to act childish (pretty easy), and intimate (much more difficult), they had to had to be sexually intimate in a childish way. This meant playing around with being innocent while discussing some pretty heavy sexual things. Did they know what they were doing? Did they know it was wrong? How can this be presented in a way that it's up to the audience to interpret? I found the most intriguing aspect of the play was how well it caught us up in our feelings; we identify with and love the characters, yet are repulsed by the ugly reality of it all. There are so many intracacies and levels of interaction that it's amazing it is all done in such a (seemingly) simple plot.
*Lawrence: Maybe you'll have kittens!
Joanna: Oh, I don't know, that sort of thing doesn't happen much anymore.