Will, a sales manager, is supposed to be on his way to celebrate his wife’s birthday but he has a fatal accident because of distracted driving. James, a demolition worker who has a challenging relationship with his daughter, is crushed by falling pieces of a collapsed building.
Their paths cross in the hereafter when they meet Llecenia, the global marketing manager who has come up with Go Home Come Back Day, complete with a no-souls-down payment feature. Because they “left too soon,” Will and James were randomly selected to see their loved ones again for an hour — an extraordinary opportunity to make things right. When the time expires, they are returned to the hereafter for their “final placement.”
In writing Go Home Come Back, Darryl Stamp, who has been a standup comedian among other roles in his life, says he was in part inspired by film comedies with a similar broad narrative vein. These include Heaven Can Wait (1978), in which Warren Beatty plays a pro quarterback killed in an auto accident, and Defending Your Life, a 1991 film written by and starring Albert Brooks who plays an advertising executive, also killed in an auto accident, but who must defend himself in a celestial trial to determine if he is fit for reincarnation.
But, Stamp also draws on his own experiences of grief and missed opportunities, including instances where he was both able and unable to say goodbye to a loved one at the moments of their death. In an interview with The Utah Review, he says, “In the early stages of the pandemic, I started freaking out a bit. I have asthma and I heard that when some people who had COVID-19 were unable to breathe they were intubated. And, I worried about what would happen if I get the virus, made worse because of my asthma, and someone would have to hold up a cellphone up to me so what I am saying in my final moments could be transcribed for those who could not be with me then.”
This week, Plan-B Theatre offers a world premiere run of Go Home Come Back, directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff, beginning Feb. 23 and running through March 5 in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
Stamp’s style is heartwarming in its comedic touches as well as his wonderful sense of envisioning his characters through ambient music and songs that he found clarifying in conceiving the backstory for his play. In fact, he has created a playlist, which embodies the tone conveyed by specific scenes, narrative arc and characters’ words in the script. Songs include Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride, The Chainsmokers’ Don’t Let Me Down, Post Malone’s Better Now, Macy Gray’s I Try, Al Green’s Everything’s Gonna Be Alright and Oleta Adams’ Get Here. Stamp’s tastes are cosmopolitan and ecumenical, including throwbacks such as Charmaine by the Mantovani Orchestra and Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, immortalized on the soundtrack of the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever.
“The song Stayin Alive is literal thematically,” Stamp explains. “Dos Gardenias [by Buena Vista Social Club] is about a gift of two flowers that represent the love between the singer and his lover. El Dia De Mi Suerte [by Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe] means ‘I hope my luck will change before I die.’”
The inspiration for the fantasy ideal of the “soul vacations”, which is another essential element in Stamp’s play, comes from the 2001 song Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me), which Pat Monahan, vocalist for Train, wrote shortly after his mother died from cancer. For a while many listeners assumed the lyrics were about a woman who breaks off a relationship to discover her own world and identity. But, seven years later in an interview with VH1, Monahan explained why the song was his own expression of grief about the loss of his mother. The song opens with the lyrics: “Now that she’s back in the atmosphere/With drops of Jupiter in her hair/She acts like summer and walks like rain/Reminds me that there’s a time to change, hey.” Later, the song transitions with the lyric: “Now that she’s back from that soul vacation/Tracing her way through the constellation, hey, mmm.” Stamp says “soul vacation” is a “unique way to talk about the passing of friends and people that we love.”
As for the opportunity to rectify the problems of the respective mortal existence for Will and James, Stamp says the song from his playlist that is the most interesting personally is Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads. “It poses the question, ‘How did I get to this point in my life? Am I happy with my station? Was it preordained?’” He adds, “I also tend to think about capitalism, and the ownership of things despite the implication of said ownership.”
Go Home Come Back expands greatly upon the thematic and narrative elements Stamp developed in his short play Roar, which premiered in 2019 along with three other shorts in Plan-B Theatre’s …Of Color. A retired high school language arts teachers, Stamp also is a member of Plan-B’s Theatre Artists of Color Writing Workshop.
The three characters in that play were a young African American woman who is a stand-up comic working the club circuit; her father, who is a former professional stand-up comic that has fallen on hard times and battles alcoholism and the mother, who is a pediatric nurse. Roar was about accepting the imperfections of love but in the bluntest, most honest conditions. For example, in a flashback scene, we saw the mother’s sensitive resilience, as she soothed her daughter’s upset feelings about an insult from a classmate. Meanwhile, the father defended his calling as a comedian, explaining that he always intended to use it as a platform to speak on behalf of African Americans. His daughter cut him short, reminding him both that her mother was gone and of the problems his alcoholism caused. With Go Home Come Back, Stamp sharpens and focuses the light on the critical moment of an unexpected opportunity for a second chance to correct the imperfections that can thwart and stifle the loving relationships we consider the most important for ourselves and others closest to us.
In Go Home Come Back, the two leads of Will and James will be played, respectively, by Lonzo Liggins and Calbert Beck. Rounding out the cast are Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin (Janice), Kris Wing Peterson (Llecenia), Melissa Salguero (Viola and Monica) and the voice of Flo Bravo. The voice role of female announcer is prerecorded (Bravo). All announcements are translated in Spanish, they repeat, and fade out whenever they are heard throughout the play.
Performances will take place Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are selling out quickly. For more information about the production, accessibility and accommodations (including masks are required for audiences) and tickets, see the Plan-B website.