Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Home, I'm Darling
The tongue-in-cheek title, a twist on the clichéd greeting to a happy housewife when her hubby returns from a hard day's work, is an upfront clue that things are not quite what they might seem. In the opening scene, Judy Martin (Rachel Mock) swirls around her turquoise kitchen, assembling breakfast for her husband Johnny (Austin Michael Fidler) before he leaves for work. They tease one another about how happy they are, one-upping from "terribly" to "appallingly" to "offensively." A tad forced, it's a harbinger of things to come. Once Johnny is whisked out the front door, Judy pulls a laptop from a drawer, our first clue that this is an invented environment, not story set in a past time period. Judy is a "fantasist," someone who dreams about something desired and seeks to establish herself in an alternative reality.
In fact, the Martins are engaged in a recent odd social movement, "tradwifery," in which a woman believes in and practices traditional marriage and sex roles. As counter as this might seem to contemporary notions of gender and behavior, such women claim they are not sacrificing women's rights by becoming submissive homemakers. It's their own decision.
Following the opening scene, the play offers some context and challenges to Judy's chipper demeanor. A visit by her flighty friend Fran (Samantha Joy Luhn) is an opportunity to compare marriage lifestyles: Fran works part-time as a "stylist," and she's singularly uninterested in housework. Judy shares some recommendations, but it's evident that Fran won't follow through. As she departs, Judy receives a troubling piece of financial news in the mail, which she hides when her officious mother Sylvia (Cathy Roesener) drops by unexpectedly. A woman who grew up during the 1950s, Sylvia takes a dim view of her daughter's abandonment of a career in finance for a life of cleaning and cooking.
Several mentions are made of Judy's hopes for Johnny's anticipated promotion and the added necessary household income it would mean. It becomes increasingly clear that Judy is not sharing the dark financial clouds with her husband. An evening's hospitality with Alex (Zoë Peterson), his new boss at the real estate office, goes off the tracks when Judy, wearing an ostentatious dark fur stole, "over-caters" (offering a tray of a dozen deviled eggs) and makes a generally weird impression. Johnny's promotion goes to someone else, leading to outright hostility between the Martins while Fran and her husband Marcus (Aaron Whitehead) are present for cocktails.
The second act flashes back to the moment three years earlier when Judy convinces Johnny to indulge more deeply in her fascination with the '50s. She's been offered "redundancy" from her job–in America we'd call it outplacement or even unemployment–with a financial enticement that will last for six months. Of course, we know it hasn't lasted.
The generally humorous narrative of Home, I'm Darling offers some more serious insights into gender roles, workplace behavior, and women's issues, and the play's resolution suggests that open collaboration is the necessary path to true happiness. Wade's play, a twist on the "kitchen sink drama" from the '50s and '60s, portrays people disillusioned with modern society–in this case, seeking to escape into an illusory past.
Mock convincingly plays a woman in love with a fantasy, but who is fearful of how it's not evolving as she had imagined. She steadfastly rejects her mother's painful recollections of what life was really like in the '50s, especially in a lengthy monologue that Roesener delivers with stern and disdainful intention. But Home, I'm Darling has a satisfying, if not entirely believable, conclusion when it's evident that Judy and Johnny's relationship is rooted in serious commitment. Mock and Fidler bring some genuine emotion to their final confrontation and decision about how to proceed, which we witness in a jaunty, unspoken epilogue that presents a kind of reboot to the play's opening scene.
Wade's script is thoroughly British, and the actors do a passable job with accents, thanks to dialect coach Kate Glasheen. References to piccalilli sandwiches and nappies might put off American audiences slightly, but there's a lot of humor, delivered with snap. Scenes are well paced, thanks to Howell's efficient direction on Falcon's small stage, but some overlong scene changes diminish the show's momentum.
This play, which originated in England in 2019, has had few productions in the United States. Thanks to Falcon for bringing forward a playwright and story not seen locally before, and in a production that will both entertain and provoke conversation.
Home, I'm Darling runs through October 14, 2023, at Falcon Theatre, 638 Monmouth Street, Newport KY. For tickets and information, please visit falcontheater.net or call 513-479-6783.