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>> THE KENNEDY CENTER STAGES A CIVIL WAR-ERA COMING-OF-AGE TALE
'The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg'

 Go on a journey with Homer P. Figg as he attempts to rescue his older brother, who is serving with the Union troops.
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Date published: 11/15/2012

BY COLLETTE CAPRARA

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Area families will have an opportunity to experience a professional-quality performance in the state-of-the-art venue of the national center for the performing arts, as the world premiere production of "The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg" comes to the Kennedy Center this weekend.

Adapted from the Newbery Honor book by Rodman Philbrick, the story traces the quest of young Homer Figg--shoeless and homeless, but determined--to rescue his older brother who was forced to enlist with the Union army during the Civil War. Though Homer may lack material resources, he has one asset that equips him to accomplish that goal--the ability to spin a convincing tall tale.

Homer's pursuit takes him through a series of incredible and perilous scenarios that range from encounters with the Underground Railroad and a traveling medicine show to a venture in a hot-air surveillance balloon, but he always manages to come through unscathed and further along on his journey. In the end, he not only saves his brother at the Battle of Gettysburg, but goes on to lead his troops to victory.

"I serve as the narrator, providing some background and insight into what Homer is thinking," said Ryan Mercer, who plays the young protagonist. "It's fun because I get to interact with kids in the audience and play off them. Homer is, by far, the youngest character in the play, but he's also the smartest one and always seems to know what to do."

In a genre reminiscent of Mark Twain, the story uses the bonding and disarming quality of humor to open the door to deliver its message.

"I think the message of the production is to always move forward," said Mercer. "Though wild and crazy things may happen to you and though you may face some daunting challenges, don't dwell on the bad things; you've got to 'keep marching on.' And this is a coming-of-age story. In the battle, Homer is forced to grow up and to look at the world through an adult's eyes."

The performance involves a number of challenges for the cast. For Mercer, it is being onstage throughout the entire production and playing the role of a 12-year-old though he is in this 20s.

"Playing the part did sometimes take me back to my childhood to relive both the fun moments and the awkward times," he said.

For the other actors, it is stepping into character for as many as seven multiple roles. Yet, in the finale depicting Gettysburg, this little cast of seven credibly connotes a battle that involved more than 100,000 troops.

"The story is very upbeat and moving and ends with 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic,'" said Mercer. "And, throughout the play, the humor will engage everyone. I'm as excited to invite my friends who are in their early 20s as I am to have my 8-year-old sister come to see it. I know they'll take away different things, but I know that everyone will enjoy it!"

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.


What: "The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg"

Where: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., N.W., Washington When: Nov. 17 through Dec. 9

Note: Recommended for ages 8 and above.

Cost: All seats are $18

Info/tickets: 800/444-1324 or 202/467-4600; kennedy-center.org