HOME AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A WORD, Hidden Stages Productions, at Blackwell Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. However original the play’s criticism might have seemed when Hidden Stages first presented Margaret Smith Lowery’s agenda-packed Home Ain’t Nothin’ but a Word in 1993, in 1999 it comes across as a shrill jeremiad on American social policies governing the homeless. Rife with scorn and despair, it examines welfare, unemployment compensation, the VA, AA, shelters, missions, halfway houses, and SRO hotels–and finds all of them wanting. The only road to independence Lowery offers her down-on-their-luck hero and heroine involves swallowing their pride and accepting help from their friends; then, of course, they live happily ever after.

Fortunately the cast of this revival includes Doris Craig Norris in the role of Sally, a derelict everywoman whose tattered fur coat and shabby sequined gown bespeak better days, and Gregory Christopher Armstrong as Eddie, her chivalrous Vietnam-vet sidekick. Expertly directed by Gerald H. Bailey, they have enough dignity to make their cut-and-paste characters engaging and entertaining. The supporting players fare less well, though Mark Fitzpatrick makes a valiant effort as a security guard caught between his duties and his humane impulses, as does Constance Rice in her deliciously overdone portrayal of a seductive thief and con artist. Hidden Stages may still be an itinerant troupe, living up to its name, but each production by this pioneering Bronzeville company shows improvement.

–Mary Shen Barnidge