By: Emilie St. John
Tony® Award-winning playwright Warren Leight takes us back to 1945, on the night of a V-J dance, as two strangers meet by chance and fall instantly in love not knowing their lives would ever be the same.
Home Front examines an interracial relationship between Navy Lt. James Aurelius Walker (C.J. Lindsey), a medic, who is proud to be one of the “Golden Thirteen,” who meets Annie Overton (Austin Highsmith Garces), a widow of a serviceman who died at the start of the war.
Despite their love for one another, which seems to happen instantly, they are faced with the challenges of being accepted by the world, outside of Annie’s basement apartment in New York’s Lower East Side, as James patiently waits to be discharged from service.
He is acutely aware that his being one of the “Golden 13′ was “PR” after President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order which prevented racial discrimination in any government agency, including the armed forces. He was urged to do so by his wife, Eleanor.
Despite the “progress” from being an officer, James still faced discrimination, something Annie was naive to.
Annie then sets up house and befriends her upstairs neighbor Edward Glimmer (Jonathan Slavin), a gay window dresser, who is also an Army veteran.
They swap tales of comparing the homophobia he experienced with the discrimination that James was going through to explain to Annie that life was going to be hard for them.
Then James lands in a military jail, on racist charges for discharging his weapon.
Expecting their first child, Annie and Edward plead with James to take a deal to get out which he refuses. His pride won’t allow him to.
The set, designed by Evan Bartoletti shows the despair in unemployment as jobs the women held while the men were at war became scarce as they came home, coupled with James being Black made it equally difficult for him to find his footing once he was released from jail.
Edward provided comic relief with his witty sarcasm and vivid tales yet he remained Annie’s hero and sounding board when James, realizing this wasn’t the life he wanted, abandoned her and their daughter.
Although the play was predictable, it kept the audience fully engaged and laughing at the right moments. The audience has empathy for Annie and James who tried so hard to make their love work, only to fail. To have Edward, the gay man, step into the role of father to Annie’s child was heroic. He didn’t have to.
Leight was inspired to write the play by the famous image of a couple kissing in Times Square on VJ Day.
“I wondered what their lives would have been like had they been an interracial couple,” he explains. “As the son of a jazz musician, I grew up around many interracial couples, and I saw early on the pressures on their lives and marriages. It’s shocking that, more than 70 years after WW II ended, questions about states’ right to ban interracial marriage have resurfaced.”
“The play is both heartfelt and historically accurate,” notes co-artistic director Maria Gobetti. “Racism was rampant in the military during World War II. At the time, it was still illegal to marry outside one’s race in the eyes of the army. Have things really changed all that much?”
Home Front is playing at Victory Theatre through Feb. 26 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 4:00pm. Tickets are $28-$40 and are available here. The theater is located at 3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission.