Southern Gothic through an Asian-American lens in ‘Hometown Boy’ at actor’s express

“Hometown Boy” is on stage at Actor’s Express through Nov. 28.

Author Thomas Wolfe coined the adage, “You can’t go home again.” He suggested the changing nature of what we call “home” and how we often strive to recapture a feeling of home that may be lost to time. This November, these themes are front and center in a new play, “Hometown Boy,” making its world premiere at Actor’s Express. The playwright, Keiko Green, and “Hometown Boy’s” director Rebecca Wear joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about Green’s story of a young man searching for a home and discovering something else entirely.

Green, who grew up in Georgia, described her play as an attempt to “take an artistic journey back.” She said, “I was always interested in what that does to us – those hot summers, that humidity – and I’m also just really inspired by a lot of Southern Gothics, and I always wondered, ‘What’s my version of a Southern Gothic?’ And this is what came out.”

“Hometown Boy” follows James, a 25-year-old Asian-American man, who travels with his new girlfriend back to the small Georgia town he grew up in. The plan is to check in on James’ aging father, whose mental faculties aren’t what they once were. “What we realize over the course of the story is, there are a lot of family secrets, and there’s a reason why James hasn’t come back in those ten years, and those secrets slowly get revealed over the course of… two hours or so,” said Green.

Green herself is half-Japanese, and she speaks of similarities between Japanese and Southern American cultures. “That goes beyond just our love of tea and okra,” she said. “There’s something about etiquette and respecting your family, and that kind of outward personality that we put on… something about keeping up appearances that exist in both cultures, actually.” The characters inhabiting “Hometown Boy” follow these conventions to troubling places, as James uncovers buried histories his family would rather leave unspoken.

Director Rebecca Wear led the casting of “Hometown Boy,” carefully assembling a diverse group of actors to represent roles in a play that explicitly delves into cultural codes and habits, often in challenging ways. Wear said, “One of the amazing things about the casting process is that we were able to actually cast some of the actors in terms of a specific ethnicity…. Some of the actors were able to, in the rehearsal room, actually bring in stories from their families’ heritage, or from their families’… very painful past, to help us hone in on what the characters themselves would say.”

“Hometown Boy” premieres at Actor’s Express Theatre on Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. and continues through Nov. 28. More information and tickets are available at www.actors-express.com/plays/hometown-boy-2021.