|putting in 14-15 hour days, but they're projects that I chose. I want to play Cephus. I want to teach. I want to do my research projects. Those are things I put on myself. I don't have to worry about how I'm going to raise enough money to pay the next light bill or the gas bill. I'm getting paid for some of this, but that pressure to survive isn't there. As Cephus said, 'There's some that are worse off than I am.' That's what I go back to. I could get into the situation of doing something I hate doing 15 hours a day and not have any say whatsoever and have people treat me like crap."
It is this kind of empathy and perspective about his place in the world -- and that of African American men --that allows Sims to bring the character of Cephus Miles to life. Cephus Miles is a complex character who has experienced many of the pitfalls of life and yet, he is able to maintain a sense of who he is -- but perhaps not during every waking moment of every waking day. Cephus Miles' journey through life is a journey through the Black experience and reflects the values and dreams of African Americans that have allowed them to survive in America since the first African who had been enslaved set foot on American soil. It is a story of hardship and redemption.
"Cephus Miles is a country boy from North Carolina, Sims said. "He ends up inheriting a farm where he lives with his grandfather and his uncle. They both end up dying. His grandfather is stabbed on a bridge trying to get some horse feed for his farm. His uncle dies in a tobacco field in his arms. So he inherits this farm and he's trying to take care of it and become a man sort of to speak. And at that time, he is sort of betrothed to his childhood sweetheart Patti Mae. But she grows up and her folks want her to go off and go to school and get an education. He says 'Fine, you go be the schoolteacher, I'll be the farmer.' But she chooses to stay in that life and she basically abandons the farm setting. She feels there is more to gain by going off to Baltimore where her new husband is from. He's a big-time lawyer.'"
And then Cephus Miles is confronted with a soul moral dilemma. After getting drafted, Cephus Miles decides to avoid going into the military and is sentenced to prison. He loses the farm because he can't pay the taxes and heads up north to New York City.
"He gets to New York and finds out things aren't what they seem to be because he served this time," Sims said. "He can't be direct. He's trying to find work and nobody will hire him. He turns to what every other brother turns to when they are down and out. He turns to drug and alcohol use. He ends up being strung out and an alcoholic."
But redemption comes in the form of an anonymous individual who bought his old tract of land and gave him the deed. The donor is his childhood sweetheart Patti Mae who had gotten divorced and didn't have any children. "She still had feelings for Cephus all along as well," Sims said. "So they both come of age and 13 years later, they'e back in Crossroads, North Carolina. And they pick up where they had left off when she went off to school. And he has the farm. It's a total love story. There's a lot about him being in love with Patti Mae and him being in love with the land. There's love with a Higher Being and trusting God. It's a very moving story."
Sims loves the messages that this play has not only for African Americans, but also for anyone who has faced adversity during their lifetimes. "There are a lot of 'truths' for people of African American descent who have either had relatives or they themselves have been places where they've seen parts of what Cephus is going through such as dealing with the brother on the corner who is strung out and selling drugs and trying to get you involved and you have nothing else to lose, so what the heck," Sims said. "Why not give it a shot? It's the redemptive quality that can speak to anyone. He's overcome this challenge and a large part is, in hindsight, Cephus recognizes that it was his faith. It's his faith that ultimately gets him through. He does things obviously that you wouldn't consider that a true, hardcore Puritan would do. He's doing all of this other stuff. But ultimately he comes back to his faith and that's the thing that grounds him. He deals with the hand that life has dealt him and he plays it the best he can."
While Home runs only about one-and-a-half hours with no intermission, it is an intense play. All three actors -- Sims, Olivia Dawson and Tracey Bonner -- are on stage for the entire play. There is no time to regroup. "The hardest thing about this guy is he talks so dog gone much," Sims said with a laugh. "I've played roles that have a lot of lines but this takes the cake. It' a straight shot for an hour-and-a-half. You're riding that rollercoaster and Cephus talks all the dog gone time. The playwright Samm-Art Williams gives him a break right at the beginning -- the ladies do a lot of talk right at the beginning -- but once I start talking, I don' stop. That's the hardest part of playing Cephus. There are some pretty major shifts because you see him -- the writing is so beautiful, it's like poetry -- one minute really happy and excited, but then it gets really dark when we are in those moments when he's trying to find a drink or health care."
And there is no sound effects track that gets played during the play. Everything is on the shoulders of the actors. "Once that train leaves, it doesn't stop until the curtain comes down," Sims said. "O.J. Parsons is an amazing director. He does some pretty cool stuff with this. All of the sound effects are done by us. There's no sound queue. It's all live sounds. We're doing the rhythms with our hands and singing."
Even though the actors have only had three weeks of rehearsals, during the publicity photo shoot, it is evident that they have bonded as actors quickly. "It's a great family we've created in a short amount of time," Sims observed.
Sims hopes the community turns out for Home because it is an uplifting and insightful moment that is guaranteed to entertain. "I think people are going to have a wonderful time," Sims said. "They'e going to laugh. They will certainly laugh. They're going to cry. And my hope is that they will reflect on how fortunate they are and think about those moments that they have a little gripe session and they can just stop and think 'Hey things aren't as bad as they could be.' And if you hang on in there, it will be all right after a while as the old folks used to say.'
Hope and redemption is what have gotten us this far and what will take us out into the future with faith. Just ask Cephus Miles. He should know.
The Madison Repertory Theatre's production of Home runs from April 20 through May 13 in the Overture Center's Playhouse. Single tickets are on sale now and may be purchased, in-person, at the Overture Center Box Office, 201 State Street, Madison; by calling (608) 258-4141; or online at www.overturecenter.com. Single ticket prices are $39 for Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday performances, $47 for Friday and Saturday performances. A limited number of $15 tickets will be available for every performance.
| Hope and redemption
By Jonathan Gramling
| Patrick Sims, who plays Cephus Miles in the Madison Repertory Theatre's production of Samm-Art Williams' "Home," is a busy person these days. Home is the second theatrical production he has appeared in this season while also teaching full time as an associate professor at the UW-Madison. And Sims also conducts research. He has more than a full load. His schedule is absolutely insane.
"To be honest, I don't know how I do it," Sims reflected during an interview with The Capital City Hues. "Yesterday, I was frigging tired. It was almost to the point where I wanted to sort of break down and start crying. But I thought about it. These are things that I want to do, not the things my mom has to do, and that my grandparents had to do. I'm